The research results of Alan Bond and Alan Kamil are published in the February 7 issue of Nature.
Bond and Kamil, whose research is supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), describe using four blue jays as predators in a virtual ecology -- a population of 200 virtual moths whose wings had relatively similar cryptic markings. The moth images were overlaid on a complex, granular background that was projected on a computer display mimicking the appearance of live moths on a tree trunk. The appearance of the moths was developed from virtual genomes that were based on the way wing patterns are coded for in real moth genetics.
"The behavior of predators, in this case blue jays preying on computer- generated images of moths, has the potential to promote diversity among populations of prey," says Steve Vessey, program director in NSF's division of integrative biology, which funded the research. "Such behavior can lead to the evolution of diverse morphs of the prey. It remains to be seen, however, if this diversity could lead to discrete populations or even species of prey."
The jays started by "hunting" the parental population one moth at a time. Each moth in the population was presented to one of the jays once in the course of a daily session. Half of the displays seen by each bird had no embedded moths.
At the end of each day, the accuracy and speed of the birds were scored and entered into a genetic algorithm, which favored the moths that were the most difficult to detect as parents for the next generation. The moth pop
Contact: Cheryl Dybas
National Science Foundation