posted on 2023-06-07, 13:32authored byMark Broom, M. P. Speed, G. D. Ruxton
We examine the evolution and maintenance of defence and conspicuousness in prey species using a game theoretic model. In contrast to previous works, predators can raise as well as lower their attack probabilities as a consequence of encountering moderately defended prey. Our model predicts four distinct possibilities for evolutionarily stable strategies (ESSs) featuring maximum crypsis. Namely that such a solution can exist with (1) zero toxicity, (2) a non-zero but non-aversive level of toxicity, (3) a high, aversive level of toxicity or (4) that no such maximally cryptic solution exists. Maximally cryptic prey may still invest in toxins, because of the increased chance of surviving an attack (should they be discovered) that comes from having toxins. The toxin load of maximally cryptic prey may be sufficiently strong that the predators will find them aversive, and seek to avoid similar looking prey in future. However, this aversiveness does not always necessarily trigger aposematic signalling, and highly toxic prey can still be maximally cryptic, because the increased initial rate of attack from becoming more conspicuous is not necessarily always compensated for by increased avoidance of aversive prey by predators. In other circumstances, the optimal toxin load may be insufficient to generate aversion but still be non-zero (because it increases survival), and in yet other circumstances, it is optimal to make no investment in toxins at all. The model also predicts ESSs where the prey are highly defended and aversive and where this defence is advertised at a cost of increased conspicuousness to predators. In many circumstances there is an infinite array of these aposematic ESSs, where the precise appearance is unimportant as long as it is highly visible and shared by all members of the population. Yet another class of solutions is possible where there is strong between-individual variation in appearance between conspicuous, poorly defended prey.