Both Batesian and Müllerian mimicries are considered classical evidence of natural selection where predation pressure has, at times, created a striking similarity between unrelated prey species. Batesian mimicry, in which palatable mimics resemble unpalatable aposematic species, is parasitic and only beneficial to the mimics. By contrast, in classical Müllerian mimicry the cost of predators' avoidance learning is shared between similar unpalatable co-mimics, and therefore mimicry benefits all parties. Recent studies using mathematical modeling have questioned the dynamics of Müllerian mimicry, suggesting that fitness benefits should be calculated in a way similar to Batesian mimicry; that is, according to the relative unpalatability difference between co-mimics. Batesian mimicry is very sensitive to the availability of alternative prey, but the effects of alternative prey for Müllerian dynamics are not known and experiments are rare. We designed two experiments to test the effect of alternative prey on imperfect Batesian and Müllerian mimicry complexes. When alternative prey were scarce, imperfect Batesian mimics were selected out from the population, but abundantly available alternative prey relaxed selection against imperfect mimics. Birds learned to avoid both Müllerian models and mimics irrespective of the availability of alternative prey. However, the rate of avoidance learning of models increased when alternative prey were abundant. This experiment suggests that the availability of alternative prey affects the dynamics of both Müllerian and Batesian mimicry, but in different ways.
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Vol. 58 • No. 6