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Title: Aposematic coloration of Pacific newts ( Taricha ) provides a qualitatively but not quantitatively honest signal to predators

Colourful displays are used by diverse taxa to warn predators of dangerous defences (aposematism). Aposematic coloration is especially widespread among amphibians, which are often protected by harmful toxins. Pacific newts (Taricha) are considered a model of aposematism because when threatened, they arch the head and tail upwards to expose a vivid orange ventrum against a dark dorsum. Given that newts are defended by tetrodotoxin (TTX), a lethal neurotoxin, this signal is assumed to warn predators that an attack would be risky. However, colours have not been quantified in Taricha, and it remains unknown whether coloration provides qualitatively honest (signalling toxic defence) or quantitatively honest (signalling toxin level) warnings. We used two colour quantification methods (spectrometry and hyperspectral imaging) to measure chromatic (hue) and achromatic (brightness) qualities of ventral and dorsal coloration in two newt species (Taricha granulosa and Taricha sierrae). We assessed qualitative honesty using visual models of potential predators (snakes, birds and mammals). Next, we evaluated quantitative honesty by measuring TTX in newts and examining the potential correlation between defence level (amount of TTX) and colorimetrics. We found support for qualitative but not quantitative honesty. Selective pressures and evolutionary constraints might impede the evolution of honest quantitative signalling more » in this system.

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Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Biological Journal of the Linnean Society
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
p. 1-17
Oxford University Press
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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