Escape distance in ground-nesting birds differs with individual level of camouflage
University of Chicago Press
© 2016 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. This is an Open access article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0), which permits reuse of the work with attribution.
Camouflage is one of the most widespread anti-predator strategies in the animal kingdom, yet no animal can match its background perfectly in a complex environment. Therefore, selection should favour individuals that use information on how effective their camouflage is in their immediate habitat when responding to an approaching threat. In a field study of African ground-nesting birds (plovers, coursers, and nightjars), we tested the hypothesis that individuals adaptively modulate their escape behaviour in relation to their degree of background matching. We used digital imaging and models of predator vision to quantify differences in color, luminance, and pattern between eggs and their background, as well as the plumage of incubating adult nightjars. We found that plovers and coursers showed greater escape distances when their eggs were a poorer pattern match to the background. Nightjars sit on their eggs until a potential threat is nearby, and correspondingly they showed greater escape distances when the pattern and color match of the incubating adult's plumage, rather than its eggs, was a poorer match to the background. Finally, escape distances were shorter in the middle of the day, suggesting that escape behaviour is mediated by both camouflage and thermoregulation.
In Zambia we thank the Bruce-Miller, Duckett and Nicolle families, Collins Moya and numerous other nest-finding assistants and land-owners, Lackson Chama, and the Zambia Wildlife Authority. We also thank Tony Fulford and are grateful for the helpful comments provided by Tim Caro, Innes Cuthill, Daniel Osorio, and two anonymous referees. J.T., J.W-A. and M.S. were funded by a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) grant BB/J018309/1 to M.S., and a BBSRC David Phillips Research Fellowship (BB/G022887/1) to M.S., and C.N.S was funded by a Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship, a BBSRC David Phillips Fellowship (BB/J014109/1) and the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute.
This is the author accepted manuscript. The final version is available from University of Chicago Press via the DOI in this record.
Published online 7 June 2016