Achromatic body markings as a widespread visual mechanism across group living animals

Achromatic body markings as a widespread visual mechanism across group living animals

Abstract

Grouping is a widespread form of predator defense, with individuals in groups often performing evasive collective movements in response to predators’ attacks. Individuals in these groups use behavioral rules to coordinate their movements, with visual cues about neighbors’ positions and orientations informing movement decisions. Although the exact visual cues individuals use to coordinate their movements with neighbors have not yet been decoded, some studies have suggested that stripes, lines or other body patterns may act as conspicuous conveyors of movement information that could promote coordinated group movement, or promote dazzle camouflage, thereby confusing predators. We used phylogenetic logistic regressions to test whether the contrasting achromatic body patterns of four different taxa vulnerable to predation, including species within two orders of birds (Anseriformes and Charadriiformes), a suborder of Artiodactyla (the ruminants) and several orders of marine fish (predominantly Perciformes) were associated with group living. Contrasting body patterns were significantly more prevalent in social species, and tended to be absent in solitary species or species less vulnerable to predation. We suggest that body patterns taking the form of white lines on dark backgrounds, or vice versa, provide a widespread mechanism across taxa that serves either to inform conspecifics of neighbors’ directional movement, or to confuse predators, when moving in groups. Detection and processing of patterns and of motion in the visual channel is essentially colourblind. That diverse animal taxa with widely different vision systems (including di-, tri- and tetrachromats) appear to have converged on a similar use of achromatic patterns is therefore expected given signal-detection theory. This hypothesis would explain the convergent evolution of conspicuous coloration patterns as an antipredator mechanism in numerous vertebrate species.

Publication
BioRxiv