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Gray plumage color is more cryptic than brown in snowy landscapes in a resident color polymorphic bird

Koskenpato, Katja ; Lehikoinen, Aleksi LU ; Lindstedt, Carita and Karell, Patrik LU (2020) In Ecology and Evolution 10(4). p.1751-1761
Abstract

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... (More)

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.

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author
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organization
publishing date
type
Contribution to journal
publication status
published
subject
keywords
camouflage, climate change, color polymorphism, Strix aluco, survival selection, visual predation
in
Ecology and Evolution
volume
10
issue
4
pages
1751 - 1761
publisher
Wiley-Blackwell
external identifiers
  • pmid:32128114
  • scopus:85079045599
ISSN
2045-7758
DOI
10.1002/ece3.5914
language
English
LU publication?
yes
id
044e593b-5023-417e-802a-a55c275c218f
date added to LUP
2021-01-07 12:52:12
date last changed
2021-04-06 02:56:29
@article{044e593b-5023-417e-802a-a55c275c218f,
  abstract     = {<p>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.</p>},
  author       = {Koskenpato, Katja and Lehikoinen, Aleksi and Lindstedt, Carita and Karell, Patrik},
  issn         = {2045-7758},
  language     = {eng},
  number       = {4},
  pages        = {1751--1761},
  publisher    = {Wiley-Blackwell},
  series       = {Ecology and Evolution},
  title        = {Gray plumage color is more cryptic than brown in snowy landscapes in a resident color polymorphic bird},
  url          = {http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ece3.5914},
  doi          = {10.1002/ece3.5914},
  volume       = {10},
  year         = {2020},
}