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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Insect communities consist of aposematic species with efficient warning colours against predation, as well as abundant examples of crypsis. To understand such coexistence, we here report results from a field experiment where relative survival of artificial larvae, varying in conspicuousness, was estimated in natural bird communities over an entire season. This takes advantage of natural variation in the proportion of naive predators: naivety peaks when young birds have just fledged. We show that the relative benefit of warning signals and crypsis changes accordingly. When naive birds are rare (early and late in the season), conspicuous warning signals improve survival, but conspicuousness becomes a disadvantage near the fledging time of birds. Such temporal structuring of predator–prey relationships facilitates the coexistence of diverse antipredatory strategies and helps explain two patterns we found in a 688-species community of Lepidoterans: larval warning signals remain rare and occur disproportionately often in seasons when predators are educated.

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