On the evolution of mimicry in avian nestlings

Gustavo A Londoño, Juliana Sandoval-H, Mohamed F Sallam, Julie M Allen

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Batesian mimicry (BM), where a nontoxic species resembles a toxic species with aposematic coloring, has been recently described for a Neotropical species of the suboscine passerine ( Laniocera hypopyrra). Understanding the order and series in which these characteristics evolved is unknown and requires character information from closely related taxa. Here, we trace the origin of mimetic traits and how they evolved by examining antipredator characteristics using images and other field-collected trait data from nest and nestlings along with data available in the literature for the Laniisominae clade and closely related taxa. We found that morphological modifications of the downy feathers appeared first in the broader clade leading to the Laniisominae clade followed by further morphological and behavioral characteristics within the Laniisominae clade leading to the full BM. Images of nestlings in the Laniisominae and closely related clades demonstrated the extent of antipredator and camouflage characteristics. We found a complex set of behavioral and morphological traits in this clade for reducing predation from hiding to camouflage to mimicry. We further propose the evolution of two distinctive mimicry strategies in the Laniisominae clade: (1) Batesian Mimicry, as described above and (2) Masquerade, resemblance to inedible objects commonly found in their local environment. This complex set of antipredator traits shed light on the diversity of antipredator characteristics in avian nestlings, particularly in neotropical areas where the avian diversity is highest. Unfortunately, there are hundreds of species in the neotropics that lack basic natural history information on nesting traits, and therefore, we are likely missing critical information on the diversity of antipredator characteristics across avian nestlings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e8842
JournalEcology and evolution
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2022
Externally publishedYes


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