Personal information about danger trumps social information from avian alarm calls

Jessica R. McLachlan, Chaminda P. Ratnayake, Robert D. Magrath

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    11 Citations (Scopus)


    Information about predators can mean the difference between life and death, but prey face the challenge of integrating personal information about predators with social information from the alarm calls of others. This challenge might even affect the structure of interspecific information networks: species vary in response to alarm calls, potentially because different foraging ecologies constrain the acquisition of personal information. However, the hypothesis that constrained personal information explains a greater response to alarm calls has not been experimentally tested. We used a within-species test to compare the antipredator responses of New Holland honeyeaters, Phylidonyris novaehollandiae, during contrasting foraging behaviour. Compared with perched birds, which hawk for insects and have a broad view, those foraging on flowers were slower to spot gliding model predators, showing that foraging behaviour can affect predator detection. Furthermore, nectar-foraging birds were more likely to flee to alarm call playbacks. Birds also assessed social information relevance: more distant calls, and those from another species, prompted fewer flights and slower reaction times. Overall, birds made flexible decisions about danger by integrating personal and social information, while weighing information relevance. These findings support the idea that a strategic balance of personal and social information could affect community function.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)20182945
    Number of pages1
    JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
    Issue number1899
    Publication statusPublished - 27 Mar 2019


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