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Is Alarm Calling Risky? Marmots Avoid Calling from Risky Places


Travis C. Collier, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, 621 Charles Young Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1606, USA.


Alarm calling is common in many species. A prevalent assumption is that calling puts the vocalizing individual at increased risk of predation. If calling is indeed costly, we need special explanations for its evolution and maintenance. In some, but not all species, callers vocalize away from safety and thus may be exposed to an increased risk of predation. However, for species that emit bouts with one or a few calls, it is often difficult to identify the caller and find the precise location where a call was produced. We analyzed the spatial dynamics of yellow-bellied marmot (Marmota flaviventris) alarm calling using an acoustic localization system to determine the location from where calls were emitted. Marmots almost always called from positions close to the safety of their burrows, and, if they produced more than one alarm call, tended to end their calling bouts closer to safety than they started them. These results suggest that for this species, potential increased predation risk from alarm calling is greatly mitigated and indeed calling may have limited predation costs.