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The significance of prey avoidance behaviour for the maintenance of a predator colour polymorphism

Ajuria Ibarra, Helena; Kinahan, Michael; Marcetteau, Julien; Mehigan, Andrew; Ziegelmeier, Ross; Reader, Tom


Helena Ajuria Ibarra

Michael Kinahan

Julien Marcetteau

Andrew Mehigan

Ross Ziegelmeier

Associate Professor


The existence of conspicuous colour polymorphisms in animals provides an ideal opportunity to examine the mechanisms which determine genetic and phenotypic variation in populations. It is well known that directional and negative frequency-dependent selection by predators can influence the persistence of colour polymorphisms in their prey, but much less attention has been paid to the idea that prey behaviour could generate selection on predator colour morphs. In this study, we examine the role that avoidance behaviour by honeybees might play in selection on a colour-polymorphic sit-and-wait predator, the crab spider Synema globosum. In two field experiments, we offered flowers harbouring spiders of different colour morphs to foraging honeybees. In the first, we tested for a pre-existing propensity in honeybees to avoid one spider morph over another, and whether this behaviour is influenced by the flower species on which spiders hunt. In the second, we tested the ability of bees to learn to avoid spider morphs associated with a previous simulated attack. Our results suggest that honeybees do not impose strong directional selection on spider morphs in our study population, and that avoidance behaviour is not influenced by flower species. However, we find evidence that honeybees learn to avoid spiders of a colour morph that has previously been associated with a simulated attack. These findings are the first empirical evidence for a mechanism by which prey behaviour might generate negative frequency-dependent selection on predator colour morphs, and hence potentially influence the long-term persistence of genetic and phenotypic diversity in predator populations.


Ajuria Ibarra, H., Kinahan, M., Marcetteau, J., Mehigan, A., Ziegelmeier, R., & Reader, T. (2019). The significance of prey avoidance behaviour for the maintenance of a predator colour polymorphism. Behavioral Ecology, 30(1), 240–248.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Aug 6, 2018
Online Publication Date Oct 17, 2018
Publication Date 2019-01
Deposit Date Sep 18, 2018
Publicly Available Date Oct 18, 2019
Journal Behavioral Ecology
Print ISSN 1045-2249
Electronic ISSN 1465-7279
Publisher Oxford University Press (OUP)
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 30
Issue 1
Pages 240–248
Public URL
Publisher URL


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