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Eavesdropping magpies respond to the number of heterospecifics giving alarm calls but not the number of species calling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)133-143
Number of pages11
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Early online date19 Jan 2019
DateAccepted/In press - 7 Nov 2018
DateE-pub ahead of print - 19 Jan 2019
DatePublished (current) - 1 Feb 2019


Social information varies in its reliability and relevance, requiring individuals to use rules to avoid inappropriate responses to false information. A simple rule is to respond only when a certain number of individuals provide similar information. Although individuals within social groups can use such numerical rules to assess conspecific information and make consensus decisions, it is unknown whether individuals apply similar rules when assessing the value of heterospecific information. We consider the case of individuals eavesdropping on heterospecific alarm calls. Eavesdroppers may be particularly vulnerable to false alarms because of the large pool of potential callers and variability in the specific threats to which they call. Individuals might therefore value alarm calls more if they come from multiple callers or multiple species than from a single caller or a single species. We tested these predictions using field playback experiments on wild Australian magpies, Gymnorhina tibicen. Magpies responded more strongly to alarm calls coming from two callers versus one caller of the same heterospecific species. However, in contrast to our prediction, magpies responded similarly to alarm calls from two individuals of different species as they did to alarm calls from two individuals of the same species. We conclude that the number of calling individuals does affect response, probably because information from multiple callers is more reliable, but that the value or reliability of information from multiple species may depend on the types of alarm calls and combination of species involved.

    Research areas

  • alarm call, heterospecific eavesdropping, personal information, quorum rules, signal reliability, social information



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