The dual benefits of aposematism: Predator avoidance and enhanced resource collection

Michael P. Speed, Michael A. Brockhurst, Graeme D. Ruxton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Theories of aposematism often focus on the idea that warning displays evolve because they work as effective signals to predators. Here, we argue that aposematism may instead evolve because, by enhancing protection, it enables animals to become more exposed and thereby gain resource-gathering benefits, for example, through a wider foraging niche. Frequency-dependent barriers (caused by enhanced conspicuousness relative to other prey and low levels of predator education) are generally assumed to make the evolution of aposematism particularly challenging. Using a deterministic, evolutionary model we show that aposematic display could evolve relatively easily if it enabled prey to move more freely around their environments, or become exposed in some other manner that provides fitness benefits unrelated to predation risk. Furthermore, the model shows that the traits of aposematic conspicuousness and behavior which lead to raised exposure positively affect each other, so that the optimal level of both tends to increase when the traits exist together, compared to when they exist in isolation. We discuss the ecological and evolutionary consequences of aposematism. One conclusion is that aposematism could be a key evolutionary innovation, because by widening habitat use it may promote adaptive radiation as a byproduct of enhanced ecological opportunity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1622-1633
Number of pages12
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2010


  • Aposematism
  • Key innovation
  • Life history
  • Niche
  • Predator


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