Camouflage accuracy in Sahara–Sahel desert rodents

Ossi Nokelainen*, José Carlos Brito , Nicholas E Scott-Samuel, Janne K Valkonen, Zbyszek Boratyński

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


1. Camouflage helps animals to hide from predators and is therefore key to survival. Although widespread convergence of animal phenotypes to their natural environment is well-established, there is a lack of knowledge about how species compromise camouflage accuracy across different background types in their habitat.

2. Here we tested how background matching has responded to top–down selection by avian and mammalian predators using Sahara–Sahel desert rodents in North Africa.

3. We show that the fur colouration of several species has become an accurate match to different types of desert habitats. This is supported by a correlation analysis of colour and pattern metrics, investigation of animal-to-background similarities at different spatial scales and is confirmed by modelling of two predator vision systems.

4. The background match was closest across large (or global) spatial scales, suggesting a generalist camouflage tactic for many background types. Some species, may have a better match to the background over small (or focal) spatial scales, which could be the result of habitat choices or differential predation. Nevertheless, predicted discrimination distances of fur colouration were virtually indistinguishable for mammalian and low for avian vision model, which implies effective camouflage.

5. Our study provides one of the best documented cases of multilevel camouflage
accuracy in geographically widespread taxa. We conclude that background matching has become an effective and common adaptation against predatory threat in Sahara–Sahelian desert rodents.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Early online date29 Mar 2020
Publication statusPublished - 13 Apr 2020

Structured keywords

  • Cognitive Science
  • Visual Perception


  • background matching
  • Desert
  • dipodinae
  • gerbillinae
  • QCPA
  • top-down selection
  • vision model

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