Toxicity and taste: Unequal chemical defences in a mimicry ring

Anne E. Winters, Nerida G. Wilson, Cedric P. van den Berg, Martin J. How, John A. Endler, N. Justin Marshall, Andrew M. White, Mary J. Garson, Karen L. Cheney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


Mimicry of warning signals is common, and can be mutualistic when mimetic species harbour equal levels of defence (Muü llerian), or parasitic when mimics are undefended but still gain protection from their resemblance to the model (Batesian). However, whether chemically defended mimics should be similar in terms of toxicity (i.e. causing damage to the consumer) and/or unpalatability (i.e. distasteful to consumer) is unclear and in many studies remains undifferentiated. In this study, we investigated the evolution of visual signals and chemical defences in a putative mimicry ring of nudibranch molluscs. First, we demonstrated that the appearance of a group of red spotted nudibranchs molluscs was similar from the perspective of potential fish predators using visual modelling and pattern analysis. Second, using phylogenetic reconstruction, we demonstrated that this colour pattern has evolved multiple times in distantly related individuals. Third, we showed that these nudibranchs contained different chemical profiles used for defensive purposes. Finally, we demonstrated that although levels of distastefulness towards Palaemon shrimp remained relatively constant between species, toxicity levels towards brine shrimp varied significantly. We highlight the need to disentangle toxicity and taste when considering chemical defences in aposematic and mimetic species, and discuss the implications for aposematic and mimicry signal evolution.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20180457
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1880
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jun 2018


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