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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2001 Jul 31;98(16):9177-80. Epub 2001 Jul 17.

Eavesdropping and animal conflict.

Author information

  • Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EJ, United Kingdom. raj1003@hermes.cam.ac.uk


Fights between pairs of animals frequently take place within a wider social context. The displays exchanged during conflict, and the outcome of an encounter, are often detectable by individuals who are not immediately involved. In at least some species, such bystanders are known to eavesdrop on contests between others, and to modify their behavior toward the contestants in response to the observed interaction. Here, I extend Maynard Smith's well known model of animal aggression, the Hawk-Dove game, to incorporate the possibility of eavesdroppers. I show that some eavesdropping is favored whenever the cost of losing an escalated fight exceeds the value of the contested resource, and that its equilibrium frequency is greatest when costs are relatively high. Eavesdropping reduces the risk of escalated conflict relative to that expected by chance, given the level of aggression in the population. However, it also promotes increased aggression, because it enhances the value of victory. The net result is that escalated conflicts are predicted to occur more frequently when eavesdropping is possible.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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