A new framework for analysing mimicry in the natural world

Feb 15, 2017

Mimicry is responsible for some of the most striking adaptations found in nature. It occurs across a huge diversity of taxonomic groups and exploits all manner of sensory systems – from sight to sound to smell. Classic examples of mimicry include the close visual resemblance between the eggs of some brood-parasitic birds and those of their hosts, the rattlesnake-like hisses produced by burrowing owls when confronted with potential predators, and the deceptive sex pheromones produced by some orchids to lure insect pollinators. But how are these varied examples of mimicry related to one another? Are they all driven by the same underlying processes or are there fundamental differences? Gabriel Jamie proposes a new conceptual framework by which to position instances of mimicry across these seemingly disparate contexts. The framework draws attention to key commonalities and differences in the processes underpinning the mimicry while also highlighting evolutionary paths along which different types of mimicry can transition. The full paper is published in Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B and a longer summary can be found on the Department of Zoology website.

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You can watch the sequence in Episode 2: “Hiding in Colour” on BBC iPlayer.

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