1. Morphological characteristics, especially coloration, are related to thermoregulation and camouflage, both of which are crucial for species survival and fitness. In cool environments such as the understorey of closed rainforests, darker organisms have thermal advantages and may be able to absorb heat more efficiently. However, such habitats are also suitable for darker organisms with respect to camouflage, making it difficult to elucidate whether the association of dark-coloured organisms with shady environments is a consequence of thermal stress or predation pressure, or both.
2. In this study, butterfly communities were surveyed and artificial butterflies (mealworms attached to plastic sheeting to mimic adult butterflies) used to test whether differences in wing luminance are related to predation rates within open and closed habitats in monsoonal tropical forests of southwestern China.
3. Using artificial butterflies, significantly lower predation rates were found for dark-coloured artificial butterflies within closed habitats, whereas such relationships were not found within open habitats. It was found that actual butterfly communities were also significantly darker in closed than in open habitats.
4. These results demonstrate that darker colours may have the effect of reducing predation rates in shady environments and that different habitat types can have contrasting effects on luminance and therefore predation risk.