Dazzle camouflage, target tracking, and the confusion effect

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Abstract

The influence of coloration on the ecology and evolution of moving animals in groups is poorly understood. Animals in groups benefit from the “confusion effect,” where predator attack success is reduced with increasing group size or density. This is thought to be due to a sensory bottleneck: an increase in the difficulty of tracking one object among many. Motion dazzle camouflage has been hypothesized to disrupt accurate perception of the trajectory or speed of an object or animal. The current study investigates the suggestion that dazzle camouflage may enhance the confusion effect. Utilizing a computer game style experiment with human predators, we found that when moving in groups, targets with stripes parallel to the targets’ direction of motion interact with the confusion effect to a greater degree, and are harder to track, than those with more conventional background matching patterns. The findings represent empirical evidence that some high-contrast patterns may benefit animals in groups. The results also highlight the possibility that orientation and turning may be more relevant in the mechanisms of dazzle camouflage than previously recognized.

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