Disruptive colouration in reef fish: does matching the background reduce predation risk?

Phillips, Genevieve A. C., How, Martin J., Lange, Julia E., Marshall, N. Justin and Cheney, Karen L. (2017) Disruptive colouration in reef fish: does matching the background reduce predation risk?. Journal of Experimental Biology, 220 11: 1962-1974. doi:10.1242/jeb.151480

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Author Phillips, Genevieve A. C.
How, Martin J.
Lange, Julia E.
Marshall, N. Justin
Cheney, Karen L.
Title Disruptive colouration in reef fish: does matching the background reduce predation risk?
Journal name Journal of Experimental Biology   Check publisher's open access policy
ISSN 0022-0949
1477-9145
Publication date 2017-06-01
Year available 2017
Sub-type Article (original research)
DOI 10.1242/jeb.151480
Open Access Status File (Publisher version)
Volume 220
Issue 11
Start page 1962
End page 1974
Total pages 13
Place of publication Cambridge, United Kingdom
Publisher Company of Biologists
Language eng
Abstract Animals use disruptive colouration to prevent detection or recognition by potential predators or prey. Highly contrasting elements within colour patterns, including vertical or horizontal bars, are thought to be effective at distracting attention away from body form and reducing detection likelihood. However, it is unclear whether such patterns need to be a good match to the spatial characteristics of the background to gain cryptic benefits. We tested this hypothesis using the iconic vertically barred humbug damselfish, Dascyllus aruanus (Linneaus 1758), a small reef fish that lives among the finger-like projections of branching coral colonies. Using behavioural experiments, we demonstrated that the spatial frequency of the humbug pattern does not need to exactly match the spatial frequency of the coral background to reduce the likelihood of being attacked by two typical reef fish predators: slingjaw wrasse, Epibulus insidiator (Pallas 1770), and coral trout, Plectropomus leopardus (Lacepede 1802). Indeed, backgrounds with a slightly higher spatial frequency than the humbug body pattern provided more protection from predation than well-matched backgrounds. These results were consistent for both predator species, despite differences in their mode of foraging and visual acuity, which was measured using anatomical techniques. We also showed that a slight mismatch in the orientation of the vertical bars did not increase the chances of detection. However, the likelihood of attack did increase significantly when the bars were perpendicular to the background. Our results provide evidence that fish camouflage is more complex than it initially appears, with likely many factors influencing the detection likelihood of prey by relevant predators.
Formatted abstract
Animals use disruptive colouration to prevent detection or recognition by potential predators or prey. Highly contrasting elements within colour patterns, including vertical or horizontal bars, are thought to be effective at distracting attention away from body form and reducing detection likelihood. However, it is unclear whether such patterns need to be a good match to the spatial characteristics of the background to gain cryptic benefits. We tested this hypothesis using the iconic vertically barred humbug damselfish, Dascyllus aruanus (Linneaus 1758), a small reef fish that lives among the finger-like projections of branching coral colonies. Using behavioural experiments, we demonstrated that the spatial frequency of the humbug pattern does not need to exactly match the spatial frequency of the coral background to reduce the likelihood of being attacked by two typical reef fish predators: slingjaw wrasse, Epibulus insidiator (Pallas 1770), and coral trout, Plectropomus leopardus (Lacepede 1802). Indeed, backgrounds with a slightly higher spatial frequency than the humbug body pattern provided more protection from predation than well-matched backgrounds. These results were consistent for both predator species, despite differences in their mode of foraging and visual acuity, which was measured using anatomical techniques.We also showed that a slight mismatch in the orientation of the vertical bars did not increase the chances of detection. However, the likelihood of attack did increase significantly when the bars were perpendicular to the background. Our results provide evidence that fish camouflage is more complex than it initially appears, with likely many factors influencing the detection likelihood of prey by relevant predators.
Keyword Animal behaviour
Disruptive camouflage
Fourier analysis
Predator-prey relationships
Visual ecology
Q-Index Code C1
Q-Index Status Provisional Code
Grant ID DP110105389
Institutional Status UQ

Document type: Journal Article
Sub-type: Article (original research)
Collections: HERDC Pre-Audit
Queensland Brain Institute Publications
School of Biological Sciences Publications
 
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