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Selection for signal efficacy in variable environments may favor color polymorphism, but little is known about this possibility outside of sexual systems. Here we used the color polymorphic orb-web spider Gasteracantha fornicata, whose yellow- or white-banded dorsal signal attracts dipteran prey, to test the hypothesis that morphs may be tuned to optimize either chromatic or achromatic conspicuousness in their visually noisy forest environments. We used data from extensive observations of naturally existing spiders and precise assessments of visual environments to model signal conspicuousness according to dipteran vision. Modeling supported a distinct bias in the chromatic (yellow morph) or achromatic (white morph) contrast presented by spiders at the times when they caught prey, as opposed to all other times at which they may be viewed. Hence, yellow spiders were most successful when their signal produced maximum color contrast against viewing backgrounds, whereas white spiders were most successful when they presented relatively greatest luminance contrast. Further modeling across a hypothetical range of lure variation confirmed that yellow versus white signals should, respectively, enhance chromatic versus achromatic conspicuousness to flies, in G. fornicata's visual environments. These findings suggest that color polymorphism may be adaptively maintained by selection for conspicuousness within different visual channels in receivers.
- sensory trap
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