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Do aggressive signals evolve towards higher reliability or lower costs of assessment?

Research paper by P P Ręk

Indexed on: 08 Oct '14Published on: 08 Oct '14Published in: Journal of Evolutionary Biology



Abstract

It has been suggested that the evolution of signals must be a wasteful process for the signaller, aimed at the maximization of signal honesty. However, the reliability of communication depends not only on the costs paid by signallers but also on the costs paid by receivers during assessment, and less attention has been given to the interaction between these two types of costs during the evolution of signalling systems. A signaller and receiver may accept some level of signal dishonesty by choosing signals that are cheaper in terms of assessment but that are stabilized with less reliable mechanisms. I studied the potential trade-off between signal reliability and the costs of signal assessment in the corncrake (Crex crex). I found that the birds prefer signals that are less costly regarding assessment rather than more reliable. Despite the fact that the fundamental frequency of calls was a strong predictor of male size, it was ignored by receivers unless they could directly compare signal variants. My data revealed a response advantage of costly signals when comparison between calls differing with fundamental frequencies is fast and straightforward, whereas cheap signalling is preferred in natural conditions. These data might improve our understanding of the influence of receivers on signal design because they support the hypothesis that fully honest signalling systems may be prone to dishonesty based on the effects of receiver costs and be replaced by signals that are cheaper in production and reception but more susceptible to cheating.