Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Alkaloid defenses of co-mimics in a putative Müllerian mimetic radiation

Adam MM Stuckert1*, Ralph A Saporito2, Pablo J Venegas3 and Kyle Summers1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biology, East Carolina University, 1000 E. Fifth St, Greenville, NC 27858, USA

2 Department of Biology, John Carroll University, University Heights, Ohio 44118, USA

3 División de Herpetología-Centro de Ornitología y Biodiversidad (CORBIDI), Santa Rita N°105 Of. 202, Urb. Huertos de San Antonio, Surco, Lima, Perú

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2014, 14:76  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-14-76

Published: 4 April 2014



Polytypism in aposematic species is unlikely according to theory, but commonly seen in nature. Ranitomeya imitator is a poison frog species exhibiting polytypic mimicry of three congeneric model species (R. fantastica, R. summersi, and two morphs of R. variabilis) across four allopatric populations (a "mimetic radiation"). In order to investigate chemical defenses in this system, a key prediction of Müllerian mimicry, we analyzed the alkaloids of both models and mimics from four allopatric populations.


In this study we demonstrate distinct differences in alkaloid profiles between co-mimetic species within allopatric populations. We further demonstrate that R. imitator has a greater number of distinct alkaloid types than the model species and more total alkaloids in all but one population.


Given that R. imitator is the more abundant species in these populations, R. imitator is likely driving the majority of predator-learned avoidance in these complexes. The success of Ranitomeya imitator as a putative advergent mimic may be a direct result of differences in alkaloid sequestration. Furthermore, we propose that automimicry within co-mimetic species is an important avenue of research.

Alkaloids; Aposematism; Dendrobatids; Müllerian mimicry; Polytypism; Ranitomeya imitator