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Costs of colour change in fish: food intake and behavioural decisions

Rodgers, Gwendolen M.; Gladman, Nicholas W.; Corless, Hannah F.; Morrell, Lesley J.


Gwendolen M. Rodgers

Nicholas W. Gladman

Hannah F. Corless


Many animals, particularly reptiles, amphibians, fish and cephalopods, have the ability to change their body colour, for functions including thermoregulation, signalling and predator avoidance. Many fish plastically darken their body colouration in response to dark visual backgrounds, and this functions to reduce predation risk. Here, we tested the hypotheses that colour change in fish (1) carries with it an energetic cost and (2) affects subsequent shoal and habitat choice decisions. We demonstrate that guppies (Poecilia reticulata) change colour in response to dark and light visual backgrounds, and that doing so carries an energetic cost in terms of food consumption. By increasing food intake, however, guppies are able to maintain growth rates and meet the energetic costs of changing colour. Following colour change, fish preferentially choose habitats and shoals that match their own body colouration, and maximise crypsis, thus avoiding the need for further colour change but also potentially paying an opportunity cost associated with restriction to particular habitats and social associates. Thus, colour change to match the background is complemented by behavioural strategies, which should act to maximise fitness in variable environments. © 2013. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd.


Rodgers, G. M., Gladman, N. W., Corless, H. F., & Morrell, L. J. (2013). Costs of colour change in fish: food intake and behavioural decisions. The journal of experimental biology, 216(14), 2760-2767.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Mar 19, 2013
Online Publication Date Apr 25, 2013
Publication Date Jul 15, 2013
Deposit Date Feb 7, 2017
Publicly Available Date Nov 23, 2017
Journal Journal of experimental biology
Print ISSN 0022-0949
Electronic ISSN 1477-9145
Publisher The Company of Biologists
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 216
Issue 14
Pages 2760-2767
Keywords Physiological colour change, Morphological colour change, Phenotypic plasticity, Camouflage, Background matching
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information This is a copy of an article published in Journal of experimental biology, 2014, v.216 issue 14.


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