Although camouflage is a common predator defense strategy across a wide variety of organisms, direct tests of the adaptive and ecological consequences of camouflage are rare. In this study, we demonstrated that closely related crabs in the family Epialtidae coexist in the same algal environment but use alternative forms of camouflage--decoration and color change--to protect themselves from predation. Decoration and color change are both plastic camouflage strategies in that they can be changed to match different habitats: decoration occurs on a short timescale (hours to days), while color change accompanies molting and occurs on longer timescales (months). We found that the species that decorated the most had the lowest magnitude of color change (Pugettia richii); the species that decorated the least showed the highest magnitude of color change (Pugettia producta), and a third species (Mimulus foliatus) was intermediate in both decoration and color change, suggesting a negative correlation in utilization of these strategies. This negative correlation between color change and decoration camouflage utilization mirrored the effectiveness of these camouflage strategies in reducing predation in different species. Color camouflage primarily reduced predation on P. producta, while decoration camouflage (but not color camouflage) reduced predation on P. richii. These results indicate there might be among-species trade-offs in utilization and/or effectiveness of these two forms of plastic camouflage, with important consequences for distribution of these species among habitats and the evolution of different camouflage strategies in this group.
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