A1 Journal article (refereed)
Gray plumage color is more cryptic than brown in snowy landscapes in a resident color polymorphic bird (2020)

Koskenpato, K., Lehikoinen, A., Lindstedt, C., & Karell, P. (2020). Gray plumage color is more cryptic than brown in snowy landscapes in a resident color polymorphic bird. Ecology and Evolution, 10(4), 1751-1761. https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.5914

JYU authors or editors

Publication details

All authors or editors: Koskenpato, Katja; Lehikoinen, Aleksi; Lindstedt, Carita; Karell, Patrik

Journal or series: Ecology and Evolution

eISSN: 2045-7758

Publication year: 2020

Volume: 10

Issue number: 4

Pages range: 1751-1761

Publisher: John Wiley & Sons

Publication country: United Kingdom

Publication language: English

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.5914

Research data link: https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.q573n5tf5

Publication open access: Openly available

Publication channel open access: Open Access channel

Publication is parallel published (JYX): https://jyx.jyu.fi/handle/123456789/67767


Camouflage may promote fitness of given phenotypes in different environments. The tawny owl (Strix aluco) is a color polymorphic species with a gray and brown morph resident in the Western Palearctic. A strong selection pressure against the brown morph during snowy and cold winters has been documented earlier, but the selection mechanisms remain unresolved. Here, we hypothesize that selection favors the gray morph because it is better camouflaged against predators and mobbers in snowy conditions compared to the brown one. We conducted an online citizen science experiment where volunteers were asked to locate a gray or a brown tawny owl specimen from pictures taken in snowy and snowless landscapes. Our results show that the gray morph in snowy landscapes is the hardest to detect whereas the brown morph in snowy landscapes is the easiest to detect. With an avian vision model, we show that, similar to human perceivers, the brown morph is more conspicuous than the gray against coniferous tree trunks for a mobbing passerine. We suggest that with better camouflage, the gray morph may avoid mobbers and predators more efficiently than the brown morph and thus survive better in snowy environments. As winters are getting milder and shorter in the species range, the selection periods against brown coloration may eventually disappear or shift poleward.

Keywords: protective coloration; climate changes; diversity; tawny owl; coping; predation

Free keywords: camouflage; climate change; color polymorphism; Strix aluco; survival selection; visual predation

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Ministry reporting: Yes

Reporting Year: 2020

JUFO rating: 1

Last updated on 2023-03-10 at 11:52