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Biologists say camouflage works

"It is surprisingly difficult to test this in a natural setting," said researcher Jolyon Troscianko.
By Brooks Hays   |   Jan. 29, 2016 at 10:24 AM

EXETER, England, Jan. 29 (UPI) -- Evolution has inspired an uncountable number of adaptations among the plant and animal kingdoms -- oddly shaped limbs, exotic color schemes, poisonous fangs.

But not all adaptations work, some physiological experiments persist without aiding survival. Camouflage is not one of those experiments. New research out of England proves camouflage keeps prey from being eaten by predators.

Specifically, scientists from the universities of Exeter and Cambridge looked at ground-nesting birds in Zambia. Researchers used an imaging model to interpret how different bird species would appear to common predators like mongooses, birds and vervet monkeys, and how closely their appearance matched their surroundings. They did the same for the appearance of each species' eggs.

Next, researchers monitored the bird species in the wild using remote cameras, tracking how birds and their eggs fared during nesting season.

For species who abandon their nest for shelter when a predator comes near, such as plovers, the eggs that most closely matched the natural background were the most likely to remain undiscovered and uneaten. For species who stay and do their best to remain motionless, like nightjars, those with the most camouflaged plumage were the most likely to avoid predation.

The findings may seem obvious, but the research -- detailed in the journal Scientific Reports -- was exceedingly difficult to execute. Only the stationary status of ground-nesting birds made it possible.

"Although it may seem obvious that blending into your background makes you less likely to be seen, it is surprisingly difficult to test this in a natural setting," lead study author Jolyon Troscianko, an ecologist at Exeter, explained in a news release.

"This is partly because very well camouflaged animals are of course difficult to find in the wild, and also because they tend to keep moving around, meaning the match between their own appearance and their background is constantly changing," Troscianko said. "In addition we had determine which predators were eating the nests so that we could take into account their different visual systems."

Another study recently showed that a zebra's stripes don't help them hide -- further proof that camouflage and its effectiveness shouldn't be assumed.

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