The hoverflies : a case of "poor" mimicry?
The hoverflies (Diptera:Syrphidae) represent an apparently paradoxical visual Batesian mimicry complex, with what appear to be "poor" Mimics outnumbering their more accomplished counterparts. The purpose of this thesis is to determine how far conventional mimicry theory is capable of explaining the apparent paradoxes of mimicry in the hoverflies. It becomes obvious that determining the mimetic status of the supposedly poor Mimics is not a trivial task. Conventional experimental tests of mimicry, using captive predators, seem incapable of predicting the degree of protection enjoyed by a Mimic in the field. The research therefore concentrates on developing some novel empirical approaches to the study of mimicry. This includes developing a method of image analysis which yields an objective, single-value measure of the similarity between Model and Mimic patterns. This index of similarity is used to produce unique descriptions of the structure of mimetic communities in terms of Mimic frequency and similarity to the supposed Model. These profiles indicate that there is an objective basis to the perceived paradox, and suggest that there is not a simple relationship between the actual and perceived similarity of two patterns. The perceived similarity of Model and Mimic will be a key determinant of mimetic success. The index of similarity is also used as a basis for direct comparison of the supposedly mimetic hoverflies with a more established example of mimicry in the butterflies. This exercise demonstrates that an index of pattern similarity enables a unique comparative analysis of mimicry. It is proposed that an index of similarity also provides a unique opportunity to test our theoretical understanding of mimicry, if it is used in conjunction with a mathematical model that possesses some specific attributes. A suitable prototype model is developed and demonstrated. The thesis concludes with an indication that the novel empirical approaches developed here, have been adopted elsewhere. This latter work indicates that those hoverfly species which are apparently "poor" Mimics, may be exploiting some constraint in predator perceptual and cognitive systems to achieve mimetic protection, despite a relatively low degree of actual similarity to the Model species.