Background matching ability and the maintenance of a colour polymorphism in the red devil cichlid

W. Sowersby, Topi Lehtonen, B. B. M. Wong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


The evolution and maintenance of colour polymorphisms remains a topic of considerable research interest. One key mechanism thought to contribute to the coexistence of different colour morphs is a bias in how conspicuous they are to visual predators. Although individuals of many species camouflage themselves against their background to avoid predation, differently coloured individuals within a species may vary in their capacity to do so. However, to date, very few studies have explicitly investigated the ability of different colour morphs to plastically adjust their colouration to match their background. The red devil (Amphilophus labiatus) is a Neotropical cichlid fish with a stable colour polymorphism, with the gold morph being genetically dominant and having a myriad of documented advantages over the dark morph. However, gold individuals are much rarer, which may be related to their heightened conspicuousness to would-be predators. Here, we tested the ability of differently coloured individuals to phenotypically adjust the shade of their body colour and patterns to match their background. In particular, we filmed dark, gold and mottled (a transitioning phase from dark to gold) individuals under an identical set-up on light vs. dark-coloured substrates. We found that, in contrast to individuals of the dark morph, gold and mottled individuals were less capable of matching their body colouration to their background. As a result, gold individuals appeared to be more conspicuous. These results suggest that a difference in background matching ability could play an important role in the maintenance of colour polymorphisms.
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Pages (from-to)395–402
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2015
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Cite this