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Social Behaviour and Communication in the Great Skua

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[Social behaviour in Great Skuas was observed in a breeding colony at Noss, Shetland, 28 April-2 June 1972, with emphasis on displays and communication. The display repertoire consists of a number of "basic" elements, which occur in different combinations. Motivation of displays was examined with temporal sequence analysis. Association between displays and overt patterns was studied in ten-second time units over a range of ± 100 seconds time lag. Upright postures, Bend, Wing-raising and Long Call showed positive associations mainly with attack and escape. "Squeaking Ceremony" was associated mainly with nest-building patterns, Neck Low with "courtshp feeding", and Staccato Call with copulation. Most agonistic displays were of short duration, whereas "Squeaking" and Staccato Call were performed during longer periods. Signal function of agonistic displays was studied in dyadic interactions, examining occurrence and sequential order of patterns in both individuals. One aspect of the message of a display, probability of subsequent action, was estimated by recording the frequency of attack, stay put and escape following it. The probability of accurately predicting communicator action usually increased if the preceding display was considered. The best predictability was obtained for displays mainly indicating escape, whereas attack was least predictable. Some displays gave similar information about subsequent actions. Closer examination revealed differences in use, depending on position of the rival. There may also be undetected differences in subsequent motor patterns. Long Call and Wing-raising, which are conspicuous at long distance, were most frequently used towards aerial intruders, Upright postures towards nearby intruders on the ground. Besides conveying different messages, different agonistic displays may thus be used for communication with recipients at different positions and distances. The effect of displays on other individuals was studied by recording their responses to different patterns. Results from the analysis of subsequent actions by the same individual permitted some predictions, which were used to test the hypothesis that displays influence the behaviour of recipients. For example, displays indicating high attack probability should more often be followed by escape in recipients than should escape indicators. These predictions in general were confirmed. However, overt patterns and territorial status also had an influence on the recipient's response. To assess the relative importance of one particular factor, cases where the two other factors did not vary were compared. Overt movements had a strong influence and territorial status also played a role. Other factors besides displays therefore are important in the communication process, and need consideration. When allowance was made for the influence of territorial status and mode of approach, a significant association was obtained between the probability of communicator attack subsequent to various displays, and the responses in recipients of these displays. Recipients hence use information about subsequent communicator action provided by displays for adapting their responses, which shows that displays function as signals., Social behaviour in Great Skuas was observed in a breeding colony at Noss, Shetland, 28 April-2 June 1972, with emphasis on displays and communication. The display repertoire consists of a number of "basic" elements, which occur in different combinations. Motivation of displays was examined with temporal sequence analysis. Association between displays and overt patterns was studied in ten-second time units over a range of ± 100 seconds time lag. Upright postures, Bend, Wing-raising and Long Call showed positive associations mainly with attack and escape. "Squeaking Ceremony" was associated mainly with nest-building patterns, Neck Low with "courtshp feeding", and Staccato Call with copulation. Most agonistic displays were of short duration, whereas "Squeaking" and Staccato Call were performed during longer periods. Signal function of agonistic displays was studied in dyadic interactions, examining occurrence and sequential order of patterns in both individuals. One aspect of the message of a display, probability of subsequent action, was estimated by recording the frequency of attack, stay put and escape following it. The probability of accurately predicting communicator action usually increased if the preceding display was considered. The best predictability was obtained for displays mainly indicating escape, whereas attack was least predictable. Some displays gave similar information about subsequent actions. Closer examination revealed differences in use, depending on position of the rival. There may also be undetected differences in subsequent motor patterns. Long Call and Wing-raising, which are conspicuous at long distance, were most frequently used towards aerial intruders, Upright postures towards nearby intruders on the ground. Besides conveying different messages, different agonistic displays may thus be used for communication with recipients at different positions and distances. The effect of displays on other individuals was studied by recording their responses to different patterns. Results from the analysis of subsequent actions by the same individual permitted some predictions, which were used to test the hypothesis that displays influence the behaviour of recipients. For example, displays indicating high attack probability should more often be followed by escape in recipients than should escape indicators. These predictions in general were confirmed. However, overt patterns and territorial status also had an influence on the recipient's response. To assess the relative importance of one particular factor, cases where the two other factors did not vary were compared. Overt movements had a strong influence and territorial status also played a role. Other factors besides displays therefore are important in the communication process, and need consideration. When allowance was made for the influence of territorial status and mode of approach, a significant association was obtained between the probability of communicator attack subsequent to various displays, and the responses in recipients of these displays. Recipients hence use information about subsequent communicator action provided by displays for adapting their responses, which shows that displays function as signals.]

Affiliations: 1: (Department of Zoology, University of Gothenburg, Sweden

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