Gray plumage color is more cryptic than brown in snowy landscapes in a resident color polymorphic bird

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http://hdl.handle.net/10138/318232

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Koskenpato , K , Lehikoinen , A , Lindstedt , C & Karell , P 2020 , ' Gray plumage color is more cryptic than brown in snowy landscapes in a resident color polymorphic bird ' , Ecology and Evolution , vol. 10 , no. 4 , pp. 1751-1761 . https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.5914

Title: Gray plumage color is more cryptic than brown in snowy landscapes in a resident color polymorphic bird
Author: Koskenpato, Katja; Lehikoinen, Aleksi; Lindstedt, Carita; Karell, Patrik
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Finnish Museum of Natural History
University of Helsinki, Zoology
Date: 2020-02
Language: eng
Number of pages: 11
Belongs to series: Ecology and Evolution
ISSN: 2045-7758
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10138/318232
Abstract: Camouflage may promote fitness of given phenotypes in different environments. The tawny owl (Strix aluco) is a color polymorphic species with a gray and brown morph resident in the Western Palearctic. A strong selection pressure against the brown morph during snowy and cold winters has been documented earlier, but the selection mechanisms remain unresolved. Here, we hypothesize that selection favors the gray morph because it is better camouflaged against predators and mobbers in snowy conditions compared to the brown one. We conducted an online citizen science experiment where volunteers were asked to locate a gray or a brown tawny owl specimen from pictures taken in snowy and snowless landscapes. Our results show that the gray morph in snowy landscapes is the hardest to detect whereas the brown morph in snowy landscapes is the easiest to detect. With an avian vision model, we show that, similar to human perceivers, the brown morph is more conspicuous than the gray against coniferous tree trunks for a mobbing passerine. We suggest that with better camouflage, the gray morph may avoid mobbers and predators more efficiently than the brown morph and thus survive better in snowy environments. As winters are getting milder and shorter in the species range, the selection periods against brown coloration may eventually disappear or shift poleward.
Subject: camouflage
climate change
color polymorphism
Strix aluco
survival selection
visual predation
RISK
MAINTENANCE
CAMOUFLAGE
EVOLUTION
FITNESS
REDUCE
DETECT
TESTS
VIEWS
OWLS
1181 Ecology, evolutionary biology
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