Frequency-dependent variation in mimetic fidelity in an intraspecific mimicry system

Arne Iserbyt, Jessica Bots, Stefan Van Dongen, Janice J. Ting, Hans Van Gossum, Thomas N. Sherratt

Abstract

Contemporary theory predicts that the degree of mimetic similarity of mimics towards their model should increase as the mimic/model ratio increases. Thus, when the mimic/model ratio is high, then the mimic has to resemble the model very closely to still gain protection from the signal receiver. To date, empirical evidence of this effect is limited to a single example where mimicry occurs between species. Here, for the first time, we test whether mimetic fidelity varies with mimic/model ratios in an intraspecific mimicry system, in which signal receivers are the same species as the mimics and models. To this end, we studied a polymorphic damselfly with a single male phenotype and two female morphs, in which one morph resembles the male phenotype while the other does not. Phenotypic similarity of males to both female morphs was quantified using morphometric data for multiple populations with varying mimic/model ratios repeated over a 3 year period. Our results demonstrate that male-like females were overall closer in size to males than the other female morph. Furthermore, the extent of morphological similarity between male-like females and males, measured as Mahalanobis distances, was frequency-dependent in the direction predicted. Hence, this study provides direct quantitative support for the prediction that the mimetic similarity of mimics to their models increases as the mimic/model ratio increases. We suggest that the phenomenon may be widespread in a range of mimicry systems.

  • Received January 19, 2011.
  • Accepted February 11, 2011.
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