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Keywords:

  • alarm calls;
  • antipredator behavior;
  • collective detection;
  • flight initiation distance;
  • robots;
  • vigilance

Abstract

Animals generally live in multisensory worlds; however, our understanding of multisensory perception is rather limited, despite its relevance for explaining the mechanisms behind social interactions, such as collective detection while foraging in groups. We tested how multisensory stimuli affected the antipredator behavior of dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis) using alarm calls as an auditory signal and flushing behavior as a visual cue. We varied the degree of risk within the group by manipulating the number of group mates alarm calling and/or flushing using robotic birds. We assumed that alarm calling and flushing were redundant stimuli and predicted that they could generate one of three types of responses (enhancement, equivalence, or antagonism) depending on the mechanism of multisensory perception. We set up an artificial flock with three robotic juncos surrounding a live junco and controlled for multiple confounding factors (e.g., identity of the focal, body mass, food deprivation time). We found that the degree of alarm of live juncos increased when at least one robot flushed. However, the time it took the live individuals to react to the robots' behavior increased, rather than decreased, with at least one alarm call. This could be the result of an orienting response or sensory overload, as live juncos increased scanning behavior after being exposed solely to alarm calls. Contrary to some theoretical assumptions, alarm calling and flushing behavior elicited independent unimodal responses, suggesting that they are non-redundant stimuli and that together they could reduce the occurrence of false alarms and facilitate flock cohesion.