A1 Journal article (refereed)
Safety in Numbers : How Color Morph Frequency Affects Predation Risk in an Aposematic Moth (2021)

Gordon, S. P., Burdfield-Steel, E., Kirvesoja, J., & Mappes, J. (2021). Safety in Numbers : How Color Morph Frequency Affects Predation Risk in an Aposematic Moth. American Naturalist, 198(1), 128-141. https://doi.org/10.1086/714528

JYU authors or editors

Publication details

All authors or editorsGordon, Swanne P.; Burdfield-Steel, Emily; Kirvesoja, Jimi; Mappes, Johanna

Journal or seriesAmerican Naturalist



Publication year2021

Publication date01/07/2021


Issue number1

Pages range128-141

PublisherUniversity of Chicago Press

Publication countryUnited States

Publication languageEnglish


Research data linkhttps://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.c866t1g69

Publication open accessNot open

Publication channel open access

Publication is parallel published (JYX)https://jyx.jyu.fi/handle/123456789/78471

Additional informationThis article originated as part of the 2020 Vice Presidential Symposium. The symposium was originally scheduled for the 2020 annual meeting of the American Society of Naturalists in Cleveland, Ohio; because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it instead occurred at the Virtual Asilomar meeting in January 2021.


Polymorphic warning signals in aposematic systems are enigmatic because predator learning should favor the most common form, creating positive frequency-dependent survival. However, many populations exhibit variation in warning signals. There are various selective mechanisms that can counter positive frequency-dependent selection and lead to temporal or spatial warning signal diversification. Examining these mechanisms and their effects requires first confirming whether the most common morphs are favored at both local and regional scales. Empirical examples of this are uncommon and often include potentially confounding factors, such as a lack of knowledge of predator identity and behavior. We tested how bird behavior influences the survival of three coexisting morphs of the aposematic wood tiger moth Arctia plantaginis offered to a sympatric predator (great tit Parus major) at different frequencies. We found that although positive frequency-dependent selection is present, its strength is affected by predator characteristics and varying prey profitability. These results highlight the need to understand predator foraging in natural communities with variable prey defenses in order to better examine how behavioral interactions shape evolutionary outcomes.

Keywordsnatural selectionwarning colorationvariation (biology)predationwood tiger

Free keywordsfrequency-dependent selection; aposematism; warning coloration; context-dependent predation; polymorphism

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Ministry reportingYes

Reporting Year2021

JUFO rating3

Last updated on 2024-22-04 at 14:54