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Abstract

Antipredator vocalizations of social companions are important for facilitating long-term changes in the responses of prey to novel predator stimuli. However, dynamic variation in the time course of acoustic communication has important implications for learning of predator cues associated with auditory signals. While animals often experience acoustic signals simultaneously with predator cues, they may also at times experience signals and predator stimuli in succession. The ability to learn about stimuli that are perceived not only together, but also after, acoustic signals has the potential to expand the range of opportunities for learning about novel events. Earlier work in Indian mynahs (Acridotheres tristis) has revealed that subjects acquire a visual exploratory response to a novel avian mount after they have experienced it together with conspecific distress vocalizations, a call produced in response to seizure by a predator. The present study explored to what extent such learning occurred if the avian mount was experienced after, rather than simultaneously with, distress calls, such as might happen if call production is interrupted by prey death. Results showed that mynahs that experienced a novel avian mount simultaneously with the sound of distress calls exhibited a sustained exploratory response to the mount after training relative to before that was not apparent in birds that received distress calls and mount in succession. This finding suggests that vocal antipredator signals may only trigger learning of environmental stimuli with which they share some temporal overlap. Recipients may need to access complementary non-vocal cues from the prey victim to learn about predator stimuli that are perceived after vocal behaviour.