Giving warning signals the edge
Naomi Green et al. use differential appetitive-aversive conditioning with triggerfish to elegantly show that pattern edges are particularly salient cues when it comes to learning aposematic signals.
Edges are salient visual cues created by abrupt changes in luminance and color and are crucial in perceptual tasks such as motion detection and object recognition. Disruptively colored animals exploit edge detection mechanisms to obscure their body outline and/or to conceal themselves against their background. Conversely, aposematic species may use contrasting patterns with well-defined edges to create highly salient, memorable warning signals. In this study, we investigated how the amount of internal pattern edge, colored area, pattern type, or shape repetition of warning signals influenced avoidance learning in the triggerfish, Rhinecanthus aculeatus. Using 6 different warning signals, we found that fish learnt to avoid aposematic signals faster when they featured more internal pattern edge. We found little evidence that the amount of colored area or pattern type affected learning rates. An optimal amount of pattern edge within a warning signal may therefore improve how warning signals are learnt. These findings offer important insights into the evolution of prey warning signal evolution and predator psychology.
I recently had the pleasure of seeing the focal triggerfish in action –- they’re a strikingly intelligent group, and make for a wonderful system.