The form and function of warning signals in Lepidoptera, with a special focus on burnet moths (Zygaenidae)
Briolat, Emmanuelle Sophie
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
CC BY (with standard embargo period of 18 months)
Reason for embargo
Standard embargo to allow publication of papers.
Many species use visual features to avoid predation by several methods, such as concealing themselves, deceiving predators and hindering capture. One of the most striking strategies is aposematism, or warning coloration, in which prey use conspicuous visual signals to advertise chemical or physical defences, and thereby deter predators from attacking. My thesis focuses on the form of these warning signals, namely which elements of visual patterns might be most effective in generating predator avoidance, as well as how these different visual features relate to defence levels and ultimately to prey survival in the wild. To address these issues, I studied the warning signals of Lepidoptera and in particular burnet moths (Zygaenidae: Zygaeninae), day-flying moths with distinctive red and black wings and the remarkable ability to both synthesise defensive compounds and sequester them from their host plants. Technological advances and a growing understanding of animal vision mean that animal signals can be studied in an increasingly precise and ecologically-relevant way. Throughout this thesis, I use sophisticated methods to quantify both the defensive chemicals and wing coloration of burnet moths, as perceived by their avian predators. I examine the key features of day-flying defended Lepidoptera, then focus on the potential for quantitative signal honesty in burnet moths. I explore the relationship between defence levels and measures of coloration, both within the six-spot burnet moth, Zygaena filipendulae, and across species in the Zygaenidae, then test the effects of variation in warning signals on predation risk for artificial burnet-like prey in the field. My work highlights some of the complicating factors that should be accounted for in the study of warning coloration, especially when investigating the potential for quantitative signal honesty. I hope my thesis will provide a basis for future research on the defensive strategies of day-flying moths and inspire others to pursue investigations into aposematism in the Zygaenidae.
Blount, Jonathan D.
PhD in Biological Sciences
SWBio DTP studentship, ref. 1355867