Journal article

Kalahari skinks eavesdrop on sociable weavers to manage predation by pygmy falcons and expand their realized niche

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Publication Details

Author list: Lowney A, Flower T, Thomson RL

Editor list: Naguib Marc

Publisher: Oxford University Press (OUP): Policy B - Oxford Open Option A

Publication year: 2020

Journal: Behavioral Ecology

Volume number: 31

Issue number: 5

Start page: 1094

End page: 1102

Total number of pages: 9

ISSN: 1045-2249

eISSN: 1465-7279



Eavesdropping on community members has immediate and clear benefits. However, little is known regarding its importance for the
organization of cross-taxa community structure. Furthermore, the possibility that eavesdropping could allow species to coexist with
a predator and access risky foraging habitat, thereby expanding their realized niche, has been little considered. Kalahari tree skinks
(Trachylepis spilogaster) associate with sociable weaver (Philetairus socius) colonies as do African pygmy falcons (Polihierax
semitorquatus), a predator of skinks and weavers. We undertook observational and experimental tests to determine if skinks eavesdrop
on sociable weavers to mitigate any increase in predation threat that associating with weaver colonies may bring. Observations
reveal that skinks use information from weavers to determine when predators are nearby; skinks were more active, more likely to forage
in riskier habitats, and initiated flight from predators earlier in the presence of weavers compared with when weavers were absent.
Playback of weaver alarm calls caused skinks to increase vigilance and flee, confirming that skinks eavesdrop on weavers. Furthermore,
skinks at sociable weaver colonies were more likely to flee than skinks at noncolony trees, suggesting that learning is mechanistically
important for eavesdropping behavior. Overall, it appears that eavesdropping allows skinks at colony trees to gain an early warning
signal of potential predators, expand their realized niche, and join communities, whose predators may otherwise exclude them.


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Last updated on 2021-12-03 at 22:56