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Oecologia. 2009 Jun;160(3):609-17. doi: 10.1007/s00442-009-1320-2. Epub 2009 Apr 12.

Receiving behaviour is sensitive to risks from eavesdropping predators.

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  • 1School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia. nelika@unsw.edu.au


Conspicuous signals may attract both intended receivers as well as unintended receivers such as predators. However, signalling individuals are not the only ones at risk when communicating, as the intended receiver may encounter eavesdropping predators that are attracted to the same signals. Here, we show that the house mouse (Mus domesticus) behaviourally responds to social signals (scents) as though receiving carries a risk of predation. We presented mice with their own scents (low social benefit to receiving) and those from an unknown "intruder" (high social benefit to receiving) under high (cat urine added) and low (water added) perceived predation risk. Mice traded-off the potential social benefits of receiving a signal against the costs of potential predator encounter. Receiving rates of both social signals (own and intruder) were high under low predation risk. Mice reduced receiving of both social signals when predation risk was increased; however, the effect was greater for their own low value scent than for the high social value intruder scent. Notably, rates of signalling did not vary with the level of perceived predation risk. Our findings suggest that mice traded-off the potential social benefits of receiving a signal (scent mark) against the costs of potential predator encounter. We suggest that, for some species, the costs of communication are borne more by the receivers than the signallers, and that the influence of risks to receivers on the design of communication systems may have been underestimated.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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