Zebra Stripes Arose for Multiple Reasons–Most Powerful Association Is with Temperature

"height="150" width="150" align="left"hspace="8" vspace="2">One of nature's fascinating questions is how zebras got their stripes. A team of life scientists led by UCLA's Dr. Brenda Larison has found at least part of the answer: The amount and intensity of striping can be best predicted by the temperature of the environment in which zebras live. In the January 2015 cover story of the Royal Society's online journal Open Science, the researchers make the case that the association between striping and temperature likely points to multiple benefits -- including controlling zebras' body temperature and protecting them from diseases carried by biting flies. "While past studies have typically focused their search for single mechanisms, we illustrate in this study how the cause of this extraordinary phenomenon is actually likely much more complex than previously appreciated, with temperature playing an important role," said Dr. Thomas B. Smith, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology in the UCLA College and senior author of the research. Dr. Larison, a researcher in UCLA's department of ecology and evolutionary biology and the study's lead author, and her colleagues examined the plains zebra, which is the most common of three zebra species and has a wide variety of stripe patterns. On zebras in warmer climes, the stripes are bold and cover the entire body. On others -- particularly those in regions with colder winters such as South Africa and Namibia -- the stripes are fewer in number and are lighter and narrower. In some cases, the legs or other body parts have virtually no striping. Zebras evolved from horses more than 2 million years ago, biologists have found.
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