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Ecologia Evolutiva

Gull chicks beg for food from their parents. Peacocks spread their tails to attract potential mates. Meerkats alert family members of the approach of predators. But are these--and other animals--sometimes dishonest? That's what William Searcy and Stephen Nowicki ask in The Evolution of Animal Communication. They take on the fascinating yet perplexing question of the dependability of animal signaling systems.

The book probes such phenomena as the begging of nesting birds, alarm calls in squirrels and primates, carotenoid coloration in fish and birds, the calls of frogs and toads, and weapon displays in crustaceans. Do these signals convey accurate information about the signaler, its future behavior, or its environment? Or do they mislead receivers in a way that benefits the signaler? For example, is the begging chick really hungry as its cries indicate or is it lobbying to get more food than its brothers and sisters?

Searcy and Nowicki take on these and other questions by developing clear definitions of key issues, by reviewing the most relevant empirical data and game theory models available, and by asking how well theory matches data. They find that animal communication is largely reliable--but that this basic reliability also allows the clever deceiver to flourish. Well researched and clearly written, their book provides new insight into animal communication, behavior, and evolution.

William A. Searcy is the Robert E. Maytag Professor of Ornithology at the University of Miami. He is the author, with Ken Yasukawa, of Polygyny and Sexual Selection in Red-Winged Blackbirds (Princeton). Stephen Nowicki is Bass Fellow and Professor of Biology, Psychological and Brain Sciences, and Neurobiology at Duke University, where he currently serves as Dean of the Natural Sciences. He has published more than 65 scientific papers on animal communication and behavior, including work on birds, insects, spiders, and mammals.


"The Evolution of Animal Communication is a wonderful book. It takes an extremely important hot topic and begins where one should, with a careful analysis of its theoretical underpinnings. More than a review of the work done by others, it is a significant new contribution on its own. . . . one of the best examples of well-written technical science writing that I have encountered in a long time."--Robert Seyfarth, University of Pennsylvania, author of How Monkeys See the World: Inside the Mind of Another Species

"This book is required reading for anyone with an interest in animal communication. The level of detail is just right, the examples are very helpful and the text is well written and well organized. Those interested in sexual selection will gain a more realistic, and perhaps naturalistic, understanding of the communication that underpins much of their field."--Peter McGregor, Cornwall College

Figures, Boxes, and Table ix Acknowledgments xiii Introduction 1 Chapter 1: Definitions 2 Some History 6 Categories of Signal Costs 13 Alternative Explanations for Reliability 16 Deception Redux 17 Evolutionary Interests of Signalers and Receivers 20 Chapter 2: Signaling When Interests Overlap 24 Signaling Between Relatives: Theory 24 Begging 36 Alarms 53 Food Calls 68 Individually Directed Skepticism 73 Conclusions 77 Chapter 3: Signaling When Interests Diverge 78 Mating Signals: Theory 78 Carotenoid Pigmentation 86 Songs in Oscine Birds 97 Tail Length in Birds 123 Conclusions 131 Chapter 4: Signaling When Interests Oppose 134 Signaling in Aggressive Contexts: Theory 134 Postural Displays of Aggression in Birds 141 Badges of Status 147 Weapon Displays in Crustaceans 160 Dominant Frequency in Calls of Frogs and Toads 169 Conclusions 178 Chapter 5: Honesty and Deception in Communication Networks 181 Third-Party Receivers 182 "Eavesdropping" versus "Interception" 183 Eavesdropping in Signaling Interactions 185 Third-Party Receivers and Reliability 203 Conclusions 206 Chapter 6: Conclusions 207 Reliability 208 Alternatives to the Handicap Mechanism 214 Deceit 218 The Balance of Reliability and Deceit 223 References 225 Author Index 257 Subject Index 263