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The Evolution of Urgency-Based and Functionally Referential Alarm Calls in Ground-Dwelling Species


Furrer, R D; Manser, M B (2009). The Evolution of Urgency-Based and Functionally Referential Alarm Calls in Ground-Dwelling Species. American Naturalist, 173(3):400-410.

Abstract

A major evolutionary force driving functionally referential alarm calls is the need for different strategies to escape various predator types in complex structured habitats. In contrast, a single escape strategy appears to be sufficient in less-structured open habitats, and under such conditions urgency-dependent alarm calls may be favored. Nevertheless, some species, such as meerkats (Suricata suricatta), have evolved functionally referential alarm calls despite living in open areas, using only bolt-holes for retreat. To understand the evolution of different alarm call systems, we investigated the calls of sympatric Cape ground squirrels (Xerus inauris) and compared their antipredator and foraging behavior with that of meerkats. Cape ground squirrels emitted urgency-dependent alarm calls and responded to playbacks depending on urgency, not predator type. Vigilance behavior and habitat use differed between the two species. Meerkats roam widely to find prey and for efficient foraging depend on coordinated predator vigilance and escape behavior. As herbivores with smaller territories, Cape ground squirrels depend less on coordinated antipredator behavior, and urgency-dependent alarm calls encode all essential information. We conclude that habitat complexity does not explain the evolution of functionally referential alarm calls in all species, and other constraints, such as the need to coordinate group movements to maintain foraging efficiency, could be more relevant.

Abstract

A major evolutionary force driving functionally referential alarm calls is the need for different strategies to escape various predator types in complex structured habitats. In contrast, a single escape strategy appears to be sufficient in less-structured open habitats, and under such conditions urgency-dependent alarm calls may be favored. Nevertheless, some species, such as meerkats (Suricata suricatta), have evolved functionally referential alarm calls despite living in open areas, using only bolt-holes for retreat. To understand the evolution of different alarm call systems, we investigated the calls of sympatric Cape ground squirrels (Xerus inauris) and compared their antipredator and foraging behavior with that of meerkats. Cape ground squirrels emitted urgency-dependent alarm calls and responded to playbacks depending on urgency, not predator type. Vigilance behavior and habitat use differed between the two species. Meerkats roam widely to find prey and for efficient foraging depend on coordinated predator vigilance and escape behavior. As herbivores with smaller territories, Cape ground squirrels depend less on coordinated antipredator behavior, and urgency-dependent alarm calls encode all essential information. We conclude that habitat complexity does not explain the evolution of functionally referential alarm calls in all species, and other constraints, such as the need to coordinate group movements to maintain foraging efficiency, could be more relevant.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies
Dewey Decimal Classification:570 Life sciences; biology
590 Animals (Zoology)
Language:English
Date:1 March 2009
Deposited On:14 Apr 2009 14:19
Last Modified:06 Dec 2017 19:28
Publisher:University of Chicago Press
ISSN:0003-0147
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1086/596541

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