Quantifying camouflage: how to predict detectability from appearance (journal article)
BMC Evolutionary Biology
© The Author(s). 2017. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.
Background: Quantifying the conspicuousness of objects against particular backgrounds is key to understanding the evolution and adaptive value of animal coloration, and in designing effective camouflage. Quantifying detectability can reveal how colour patterns affect survival, how animals’ appearances influence habitat preferences, and how receiver visual systems work. Advances in calibrated digital imaging are enabling the capture of objective visual information, but it remains unclear which methods are best for measuring detectability. Numerous descriptions and models of appearance have been used to infer the detectability of animals, but these models are rarely empirically validated or directly compared to one another. We compared the performance of human ‘predators’ to a bank of contemporary methods for quantifying the appearance of camouflaged prey. Background matching was assessed using several established methods, including sophisticated feature-based pattern analysis, granularity approaches, and a range of luminance and contrast difference measures. Disruptive coloration is a further camouflage strategy where high contrast patterns disrupt they prey’s tell-tale outline, making it more difficult to detect. Disruptive camouflage has been studied intensely over the past decade, yet defining and measuring it have proven far more problematic. We assessed how well existing disruptive coloration measures predicted capture times. Additionally, we developed a new method for measuring edge disruption based on an understanding of sensory processing and the way in which false edges are thought to interfere with animal outlines. Results: Our novel measure of disruptive coloration was the best predictor of capture times overall, highlighting the importance of false edges in concealment over and above pattern or luminance matching. Conclusions: The efficacy of our new method for measuring disruptive camouflage together with its biological plausibility and computational efficiency represents a substantial advance in our understanding of the measurement, mechanism and definition of disruptive camouflage. Our study also provides the first test of the efficacy of many established methods for quantifying how conspicuous animals are against particular backgrounds. The validation of these methods opens up new lines of investigation surrounding the form and function of different types of camouflage, and may apply more broadly to the evolution of any visual signal.
All authors were funded by a BBSRC grant BB/L017709/1 to MS and JS.
The dataset and scripts associated with this article are in ORE: http://hdl.handle.net/10871/24464
This is the author accepted manuscript. The final version is available from BioMed Central via the DOI in this record.
Vol. 17, Iss. 7