Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Visual Signalling in Plant-Animal Interactions

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posted on 2021-11-10, 09:21 authored by N Rosely, Nik Fadzly

The process of visual signalling between plant and animals is often a combination of exciting discoveries and more often than not; highly controversial hypotheses. Plants and animals interact mutualistically and antagonistically creating a complex network of species relations to some extent suggesting a co evolutionary network. In this study, I investigate two basic research questions: the first is how plants utilize aposematic and cryptic colours? The second is how animals are affected by the colour signals broadcasted by plants? By using the avian eye model, I discover how visual signals/colours from plants are actually perceived, and the effects of these signals on birds (not human) perception. Aposematism and crypsis are common strategies utilized by animals, yet little evidence is known of such occurrences in plants. Aposematic and cryptic colours were evaluated by studying different colouration strategy through the ontogeny of two native heteroblastic New Zealand plants: Pseudopanax crassifolius and Elaeocarpus hookerianus. To determine the potential effect of colour signals on animals, I investigated an evolutionary theory of leaf colours constraining the conspicuousness of their fruit colour counterparts. Based on the available data, I also conducted a community level analysis about the effects of fruit colours and specific avian frugivores that might be attracted to them. Finally, I examined the fruit colour selection by a frugivorous seed dispersing insect; the Wellington Tree Weta (Hemideina crassidens). My result shows that aposematic and cryptic colours are successfully applied by plants to either warn or remain inconspicuous from browsing herbivores. The evidence I presented lends support to the Moa browsing hypothesis in relation to constraining the conspicuousness of their fruit colour counterparts. Based on the cryptic plant colourations. However, the same level of selective interaction could not be inferred for frugivore fruit colour selection based on avian vision. I demonstrated that leaf reflectance does not constrain/influence the conspicuousness of fruit colours. There was also no fruit colour diversity based on geographical location. Fruit colour alone is not sufficient to influence a specific frugivore assemblage. Other environmental factors and species interaction must be taken into account. Weta proved to possess colour vision capable of colour perception even in low light conditions. Weta also consistently selected naturally blue streaked and manipulated blue coloured fruits of Coprosma acerosa in a binary test. This supports the idea of weta co- evolving with fruit colours of certain divaricating plants in New Zealand. I suggest that the fruit colours of New Zealand are shaped by the combined selection pressure from birds, lizards/geckos and weta.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Ecology and Biodiversity

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Biological Sciences


Burns, Kevin; Lester, Phil