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Distress calls may honestly signal bird quality to predators

AuthorsLaiolo, Paola ; Tella, José Luis ; Carrete, Martina ; Serrano, David ; López, Guillermo
Prey quality
Distress calls
Honest signal
Body condition
Issue Date15-Nov-2004
PublisherRoyal Society (Great Britain)
CitationProc Biol Sci. 2004 December 7; 271(Suppl 6): S513–S515
AbstractIn predator–prey interactions, both interactors may benefit from sharing information about prey vulnerability. We examined the relationship between calls used to discourage close predators (distress calls) and the health condition of the caller to test whether these signals are reliable indicators of prey quality. The structure of calls from captured lesser shorttoed larks Calandrella rufescens was related to their body condition and T-cell-mediated immunocompetence. Birds in better nutritional and immunological condition utter harsher calls (i.e. they spread the call energy over a wider range of frequency) than birds in poorer conditions. Hence, the harshness of distress calls seems honestly to signal the health status of prey and thus their ability to escape, on which the predator might base its optimal foraging choice. Previous studies have investigated the honesty of songs that have evolved via sexual selection, but this is the first study, to our knowledge, the demonstrates a relationship between individual quality and a vocalization primarily shaped by natural selection.
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