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In Proceedings. Biological sciences

Müllerian mimicry theory states that frequency-dependent selection should favour geographical convergence of harmful species onto a shared colour pattern. As such, mimetic patterns are commonly circumscribed into discrete mimicry complexes, each containing a predominant phenotype. Outside a few examples in butterflies, the location of transition zones between mimicry complexes and the factors driving mimicry zones has rarely been examined. To infer the patterns and processes of Müllerian mimicry, we integrate large-scale data on the geographical distribution of colour patterns of social bumblebees across the contiguous United States and use these to quantify colour pattern mimicry using an innovative, unsupervised machine-learning approach based on computer vision. Our data suggest that bumblebees exhibit geographically clustered, but sometimes imperfect colour patterns, and that mimicry patterns gradually transition spatially rather than exhibit discrete boundaries. Additionally, examination of colour pattern transition zones of three comimicking, polymorphic species, where active selection is driving phenotype frequencies, revealed that their transition zones differ in location within a broad region of poor mimicry. Potential factors influencing mimicry transition zone dynamics are discussed.

Ezray Briana D, Wham Drew C, Hill Carrie E, Hines Heather M


Bombus, Müllerian mimicry, biogeography, coloration, convolutional neural network, machine learning