Tuesday 26 January 2016

Zebras’ stripes not for camouflage, study finds

JANUARY 25, 2016

by Chuck Bednar

Why do zebras have stripes? It was a question we thought we had the answer to – because they serve as camouflage to protect the equine species from predators – but new research published in Friday’s edition of the journal PLOS One suggests that this may not be the case after all.

In the new study, lead author Amanda Melin, an assistant professor of biological anthropology at the University of Calgary, and colleagues from the University of California-Davis explained that the camouflage hypothesis is flawed because it looks at the issue “through human eyes.”

Melin’s team reframed the issue by performing a series of calculations through which they were able to estimate the distances at which lions, spotted hyenas or other zebras could spot the stripes during the daytimes, at twilight or during a moonless night. They found that the stripes could not help the creatures hide, because they would have already been detected in other ways.

“The results from this new study provide no support at all for the idea that the zebra’s stripes provide some type of anti-predator camouflaging effect,” study co-author Tim Caro, a professor of wildlife biology at UC-Davis, explained in a statement. “Instead, we reject this long-standing hypothesis that was debated by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace.”

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