Chris Taylor

Supervisors: Francis Gilbert & Tom Reader

Research Interests

I started my PhD at the University of Nottingham in October 2011. I am interested in the evolutionary ecology of Batesian mimicry (the resemblance of an unpalatable model by a palatable mimic to deceive and deter predators). In particular, I am investigating the phenomenon of inaccurate mimicry. We would expect natural selection to favour those mimics that most precisely resemble their models, and yet there are many examples of mimics that appear to bear only a very approximate similarity to their model. How can we explain the existence of these inaccurate mimics?

One of the big challenges in the study of inaccurate mimicry is to quantify the level of accuracy. Almost all previous studies have relied to a greater or lesser extent on subjective human judgement. I have developed a set of scripts in the MATLAB environment that can calculate an objective similarity value for a pair of binary colour patterns, based on a distance transform of the bitmap.

My study organisms are hoverflies (Diptera: Syrphidae), many of which show varying levels of mimetic resemblance towards stinging Hymenoptera including wasps, bumblebees and honey bees. I have applied my distance transform method to a number of abdominal patterns from both hoverflies and wasps, and the results have a high level of correlation with similarity scores given by both humans and (indirectly) by pigeons. I am now making use of this objective measure to help test a number of different theories that have been proposed to explain inaccurate mimicry.


Taylor CH, Gilbert F and Reader T, 2013. Distance transform: a tool for the study of animal colour patterns. Methods in Ecology and Evolution, 4(8): 771-781 (OPEN ACCESS)