Royal Society Publishing


The coloration of species can have multiple functions, such as predator avoidance and sexual signalling, that directly affect fitness. As selection should favour traits that positively affect fitness, the genes underlying the trait should reach fixation, thereby preventing the evolution of polymorphisms. This is particularly true for aposematic species that rely on coloration as a warning signal to advertise their unprofitability to predators. Nonetheless, there are numerous examples of aposematic species showing remarkable colour polymorphisms. We examined whether colour polymorphism in the wood tiger moth is maintained by trade-offs between different functions of coloration. In Finland, males of this species have two distinct colour morphs: white and yellow. The efficacy of the warning signal of these morphs was tested by offering them to blue tits in the laboratory. Birds hesitated significantly longer to attack yellow than white males. In a field experiment, the survival of the yellow males was also higher than white males. However, mating experiments in the laboratory revealed that yellow males had lower mating success than white males. Our results offer an explanation for the maintenance of polymorphism via trade-off between survival selection and mating success.

  • Received April 27, 2011.
  • Accepted May 17, 2011.
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