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The Causation, Evolution and Function of the Visual Displays of the Eland (Taurotragus Oryx)

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Postures and movements of possible communicative value are described. These were recorded from a group of 12 captive eland. Further observations were made on 3 other populations. The normal division of activities into motivational categories is considered unsatisfactory, and they are therefore grouped according to particular reflexes with which they are closely connected. These are: (I) Postural reflexes; (2) Protective reflexes (including movements related to the presence of the horns) ; (3) Orientation reflexes (visual) and investigative reflexes (orientation reflexes related to olfaction and gestation) ; (4) Responses related to cutaneous irritation. The communicative significance of the various postures and movements is assessed from contextual data, and recipient responses. The movements of the head are particularly well developed and used for communication. The origin of several of these head postures can he traced to more than one of the above reflexes. Activities with low threshold of elicitation have often become important as displays (e.g. those related to cutaneous irritation). These are discussed. Males perform fewer displays than females, but receive more. Sub-adults both perform and receive fewer of these displays, that is, they are less socially involved. The function of the various movements and postures for communication is to convey messages relating to threat, protection, fear and submission (non-confident approach), irritation, curiosity and interest. There is no evidence to suggest that these displays have become emancipated from their original causation. One or two postures are stereotyped however (e.g. the intention to mount male posture) but in general they are not performed with typical intensity. Exaggeration of some movements has occurred. Finally, the information presented is summarised in a "visual vocabulary" of the eland. Here the activity, it origin, the contexts in which it is given, the response of the recipient to it, and thereby the meaning of the message so transferred is given.


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Affiliations: 1: Ethology and Neurophysiology Group, School of Biological Sciences, University of Sussex, Brighton, England


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