Colour change in animals can be adaptive phenotypic plasticity in heterogeneous environments. Camouflage through background colour matching has been considered a primary force that drives the evolution of colour changing ability. However, the mechanism to which animals change their colour and patterns under visually heterogeneous backgrounds (i.e. consisting of more than one colour) has only been identified in limited taxa. Here, we investigated the colour change process of the Japanese tree frog (Hyla japonica) against patterned backgrounds and elucidated how the expression of dorsal patterns changes against various achromatic/chromatic backgrounds with/without patterns. Our main findings are i) frogs primarily responded to the achromatic differences in background, ii) their contrasting dorsal patterns were conditionally expressed dependent on the brightness of backgrounds, iii) against mixed coloured background, frogs adopted intermediate forms between two colours. Using predator (avian and snake) vision models, we determined that colour differences against different backgrounds yielded perceptible changes in dorsal colours. We also found substantial individual variation in colour changing ability and the levels of dorsal pattern expression between individuals. We discuss the possibility of correlational selection on colour changing ability and resting behaviour that maintains the high variation in colour changing ability within population.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We appreciate M. Stevens for providing custom-written program for predator vision modelling, KM Kim, YW Hong, YJ Shin for their invaluable assistance. T. Duong thankfully took the task of English correction and greatly improved the quality of the manuscript. This study was supported by National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF-2012R1A2A2A01046977, NRF-2015R1A4A1041997), BK21 Plus, and Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC DAS).