Information and its use by animals in evolutionary ecology. Trends Ecol Evol

Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter in Cornwall, Tremough Campus, Penryn, UK, TR10 9EZ.
Trends in Ecology & Evolution (Impact Factor: 16.2). 05/2005; 20(4):187-93. DOI: 10.1016/j.tree.2005.01.010
Source: PubMed


Information is a crucial currency for animals from both a behavioural and evolutionary perspective. Adaptive behaviour relies upon accurate estimation of relevant ecological parameters; the better informed an individual, the better it can develop and adjust its behaviour to meet the demands of a variable world. Here, we focus on the burgeoning interest in the impact of ecological uncertainty on adaptation, and the means by which it can be reduced by gathering information, from both 'passive' and 'responsive' sources. Our overview demonstrates the value of adopting an explicitly informational approach, and highlights the components that one needs to develop useful approaches to studying information use by animals. We propose a quantitative framework, based on statistical decision theory, for analysing animal information use in evolutionary ecology. Our purpose is to promote an integrative approach to studying information use by animals, which is itself integral to adaptive animal behaviour and organismal biology.

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Available from: Sasha R X Dall
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    • "Tests comparing the use of a social signal and an environmenttracking type strategy, with no alternative nonsocial signal, are more common. Results from these types of tests, like ours, align with the predictions of statistical decision theory: use whatever information is most reliable (Dall et al., 2005). Sticklebacks (vanBergen et al., 2004), bats (Jones, Ryan, Flores, & Page, 2013), bumblebees (Leadbeater & Chittka, 2009) and rats (Galef & Whiskin, 2008) learn socially when their environment is less certain than the available social information is reliable, or when they do not have much experience with the environment. "
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    ABSTRACT: Animals are selective about when to learn by observing others. Models predict that social information becomes less reliable in uncertain environments, and therefore animals should reduce their use of social information in these environments; however, these parameters are often difficult to manipulate and control. We investigated how information reliability and environmental uncertainty affect the use of both social and nonsocial signals. Captive blue jays, Cyanocitta cristata, were given a choice between two perches, one of which was rewarded. Jays could see either a social signal (a conspecific) or a nonsocial signal (a light) that provided some information about the rewarded perch. The nonsocial signal was yoked to the bird that generated the social signal, ensuring the two signals were of identical reliability. We manipulated signal reliability (i.e. the probability that the signal correctly indicated the rewarded perch) and environmental certainty (i.e. the probability that a given perch was rewarded). Qualitatively, jays used both social and nonsocial signals more often when the signals were reliable, and used them less often when environments were predictable. However, jays used social signals less than equally reliable nonsocial signals when environments were unpredictable. Our results suggest that signal reliability and environmental predictability interact to determine signal use, but they do not affect social and nonsocial signals in the same way.
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    • "Males from a wide variety of taxa produce elaborate displays to attract potential mates (Anderson and Iwasa, 1996). When these signals differ between individuals, females often prefer to mate with males who produce larger, and/or more intense displays, which are often assumed to communicate some aspect(s) of male quality (Grafen, 1990; Getty, 2002; Dall et al., 2005). These preferred (intense) signals can incur multiple costs for male signalers including, for instance, energetic demands and conspicuousness to predators. "
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    ABSTRACT: For many species sexual signaling is a very costly activity, both in terms of energetic expenditure and increased conspicuousness to predators. One potential strategy to limit the costs of signaling is to only signal at maximum effort in contexts when signaling is expected to be most effective. Multiple studies have documented extensive plasticity in sexual signaling within a variety of contexts, however fewer experiments have examined individual-level variation in the extent of signaling plasticity and the causes of this variation. In this study we examined the influence of size and physical condition on the magnitude of signaling plasticity using a gray treefrog (Hyla versicolor) study system. We quantified signaling plasticity by recording male calling behavior first in the absence and then in the presence of a sexually receptive female. For one call property, call length, we found that both weight and condition had a significant influence on the magnitude of plasticity. Smaller males, and males in higher condition exhibited the greatest degree of plasticity. We discuss several possible explanations for this pattern and provide suggestions for future work to examine the consequences of this plasticity and the potential interactive effects of multiple biotic and abiotic contexts on signaling plasticity.
    Full-text · Article · Dec 2015 · Behavioural processes
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    • "Monospecific and mixed groups decrease individual predation risk as group size increases (Treherne & Foster, 1982). Some species eavesdrop (Dall et al., 2005), responding to alarm calls of associating species, which may have alternative methods to detect predators (Bshary & No€ e, 1997), and some associate with other species more adept at detecting predators (Fitzgibbon, 1990). "

    Full-text · Article · Nov 2015
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