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The More the Scarier: Adult Richardson’s Ground Squirrels (Spermophilus richardsonii) Assess Response Urgency Via the Number of Alarm Signallers


James F. Hare, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB R3T 2N2, Canada.


Richardson’s ground squirrels (RGS) produce alarm calls that warn conspecifics of potential predators. We presented free-living adult and juvenile RGS with playbacks of repetitive alarm calls from one vs. two juvenile callers broadcast sequentially through two spatially separated loudspeakers. Adult RGS spent a greater proportion of time vigilant in response to two vs. one calling squirrel, whereas juvenile RGS did not respond differentially to two vs. one caller. Apparently then, the relative inexperience of juvenile RGS with alarm calls and the context in which such calls are emitted precludes their enumeration of alarm callers. Taken together with our earlier finding that adult but not juvenile RGS ignore information regarding response urgency encoded in the rate of juvenile produced repetitive calls, our present results suggest a developmental shift in response-urgency perception. Adult RGS selectively extract information regarding response urgency via discrimination of the number of callers, ignoring less reliable information encoded in the rate of repetitive calls issued by inexperienced juvenile signallers.