A seasnake's colour affects its susceptibility to algal fouling

R. Shine, F. Brischoux, A. J. Pile

Abstract

Evolutionary transitions from terrestrial to aquatic life modify selective forces on an animal's coloration. For example, light penetrates differently through water than air, and a new suite of predators and visual backgrounds changes the targets of selection. We suggest that an aquatic animal's coloration may also affect its susceptibility to algal fouling. In a colour-polymorphic field population of seasnakes (Emydocephalus annulatus) in New Caledonia, black individuals supported higher algal cover than did banded conspecifics. In experimental tests, black snake models (plastic tubes) accumulated more algae than did banded models. Algal cover substantially reduced snake activity (in the field) and swimming speeds (in the laboratory). Effects of algal cover on a snake's hydrodynamic efficiency and/or its rate of cutaneous gas exchange thus may impose selection on the colours of aquatic organisms.

Footnotes

    • Received February 7, 2010.
    • Accepted March 16, 2010.
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