Knee-clicks and visual traits indicate fighting ability in eland antelopes: multiple messages and back-up signals Report as inadecuate

Knee-clicks and visual traits indicate fighting ability in eland antelopes: multiple messages and back-up signals - Download this document for free, or read online. Document in PDF available to download.

BMC Biology

, 6:47

First Online: 05 November 2008Received: 27 June 2008Accepted: 05 November 2008


BackgroundGiven the costs of signalling, why do males often advertise their fighting ability to rivals using several signals rather than just one? Multiple signalling theories have developed largely in studies of sexual signals, and less is known about their applicability to intra-sexual communication. We here investigate the evolutionary basis for the intricate agonistic signalling system in eland antelopes, paying particular attention to the evolutionary phenomenon of loud knee-clicking.

ResultsA principal components analysis separated seven male traits into three groups. The dominant frequency of the knee-clicking sound honestly indicated body size, a main determinant of fighting ability. In contrast, the dewlap size increased with estimated age rather than body size, suggesting that, by magnifying the silhouette of older bulls disproportionately, the dewlap acts as an indicator of age-related traits such as fighting experience. Facemask darkness, frontal hairbrush size and body greyness aligned with a third underlying variable, presumed to be androgen-related aggression. A longitudinal study provided independent support of these findings.

ConclusionThe results show that the multiple agonistic signals in eland reflect three separate components of fighting ability: 1 body size, 2 age and 3 presumably androgen-related aggression, which is reflected in three backup signals. The study highlights how complex agonistic signalling systems can evolve through the simultaneous action of several selective forces, each of which favours multiple signals. Specifically, loud knee-clicking is discovered to be an honest signal of body size, providing an exceptional example of the potential for non-vocal acoustic communication in mammals.

Electronic supplementary materialThe online version of this article doi:10.1186-1741-7007-6-47 contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

Download fulltext PDF

Author: Jakob Bro-Jørgensen - Torben Dabelsteen


Related documents