The Evolution of Animal Communication
Reliability and Deception in Signaling Systems
William A. Searcy & Stephen Nowicki


Gull chicks beg for food from their parents. Peacocks spread their tails to attract potential mates. Meerkats alert family members of the approach of predators. But are these--and other animals--sometimes dishonest? That's what William Searcy and Stephen Nowicki ask in The Evolution of Animal Communication. They take on the fascinating yet perplexing question of the dependability of animal signaling systems.

The book probes such phenomena as the begging of nesting birds, alarm calls in squirrels and primates, carotenoid coloration in fish and birds, the calls of frogs and toads, and weapon displays in crustaceans. Do these signals convey accurate information about the signaler, its future behavior, or its environment? Or do they mislead receivers in a way that benefits the signaler? For example, is the begging chick really hungry as its cries indicate or is it lobbying to get more food than its brothers and sisters?

Searcy and Nowicki take on these and other questions by developing clear definitions of key issues, by reviewing the most relevant empirical data and game theory models available, and by asking how well theory matches data. They find that animal communication is largely reliable--but that this basic reliability also allows the clever deceiver to flourish. Well researched and clearly written, their book provides new insight into animal communication, behavior, and evolution.

William A. Searcy is the Robert E. Maytag Professor of Ornithology at the University of Miami. He is the author, with Ken Yasukawa, of Polygyny and Sexual Selection in Red-Winged Blackbirds (Princeton). Stephen Nowicki is Bass Fellow and Professor of Biology, Psychological and Brain Sciences, and Neurobiology at Duke University, where he currently serves as Dean of the Natural Sciences. He has published more than 65 scientific papers on animal communication and behavior, including work on birds, insects, spiders, and mammals.