The research was carried out by the University of Exeter and the University of Cambridge and is published in the journal PLOS ONE. Moths with high contrast markings - that break up the shape of the body, like that of a zebra or giraffe - were best at evading predation at the start of the experiment. However humans learnt to find these prey types faster than moths with low contrast markings that match the background, like that of a stick insect or leaf bug.
The study shows that the benefit of a camouflage strategy depends on both how well it prevents initial detection and also on how well it inhibits learning.
Lead author Dr Jolyon Troscianko from the University of Exeter said: "This is the first time that a study has focused on the learning of different camouflage types rather than how quickly camouflage prevents initial detection.
"We found considerable differences in the way that predators learn to find different types of camouflage.
"If too many animals all start to use the same camouflage strategy then predators are likely to learn to overcome that strategy more easily, so prey species should use different camouflage strategies to stay under the radar. This helps to explain why such a huge range of camouflage strategies exist in nature."
Camouflage offers a visual example of how the process of natural section works in evolution. Those prey with successful camouflage strategies evade predation, survive and reproduce giving rise to future generations of successfully camouflaged individuals. Camouflage is probably the most widespread way of preventing predation in nature and is also valuable in human military applications as well as in recreation, art and fashion.
This work was funded by the BBSRC and the paper is available online at: http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0073733Images available:
The University has four campuses. The Streatham and St Luke's campuses are in Exeter and there are two campuses in Cornwall, Penryn and Truro. In an arrangement that is unique in the UK, the Penryn Campus is owned and jointly managed with Falmouth University. At the campus, University of Exeter students can study programmes in the following areas: Animal Behaviour, Conservation Biology and Ecology, English, Environmental Sciences, Evolutionary Biology, Geography, Geology, History, Human Sciences, Mathematics and the Environment, Mining and Minerals Engineering, Politics and International Studies, Renewable Energy and Zoology.
The University has invested strategically to deliver more than £350 million worth of new facilities across its campuses in the past few years; including landmark new student services centres - the Forum in Exeter and The Exchange at Penryn – together with world-class new facilities for Biosciences, the Business School and the Environment and Sustainability Institute. There are plans for another £330 million of investment between now and 2016. http://www.exeter.ac.uk/cornwall
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