Biologists Co-Edit New Book on Animal Signaling

Blue-black grassquits doing their fancy “leap” display in Brazil.

Biology professors Duncan Irschick and Jeff Podos, with their colleague Mark Briffa, an associate professor in animal behavior at Plymouth University, U.K., recently completed a three-year project with the publication of their new book, “Animal Signaling and Function: An Integrative Approach,” by Wiley. It is available now online but the official publication date is February 2015.

The 280-page volume with nine chapters surveys a new approach to understanding signals animals use by interpreting functional information. Articles discuss such topics as “Mate Searching and Flexibility in Adaptive Decision-Making,” “Coloration as an Honest Advertisement” and “Body Size.”

As the editors explain, “The diversity of animal signals has been widely documented, and the generality of animal signals also tantalizingly suggests that there are common mechanisms that have selected for their origin. However, while much progress has been made on some fronts, we still lack a general theory about why the diversity of signaling structures exist. Our compilation will directly address this gap by focusing on an exciting new arena of sexual selection, namely using functional approaches to understand signaling.”

The editors point out that this approach is “rooted in the idea that many signals are designed to transmit important functional information that is both important for issues of male quality (and hence male competition), and female choice. The increasing use of technology in sexual selection studies has enabled researchers to test whether signaling is either constrained by, or accurately transmits information about functional capacities. Further, in animals that fight vigorously, functional capacities such as endurance or strength may make the difference between winning and losing.”

The book offers a diverse collection of views by researchers using a variety of methods and taxa in actively investigating how function and signaling are related. “We believe that this integrative view is important to open up fresh vistas for why animal signals have evolved.”

Irschick adds, “It was a long time in coming but was absolutely worth it. It’s a great feeling to work with so many talented people and to bring them together around a common intellectual goal.”

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