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Communication By Agonistic Displays

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1. Great skuas Stercorarius skua use a range of displays in agonistic interactions in the club areas of their breeding colonies. We examine whether these displays allow reliable prediction of the signaller's future behaviour. 2. Skuas were studied on Noss, Fair Isle and Hoy over 3 seasons. Data from 5 colony-year samples were analysed separately. For each interaction, the display used, the signaller's action after displaying, and the receiver's response, were recorded. 3. Attack could be predicted less well than escape. However, variations between samples were so great that neither the absolute nor the relative probabilities of attack or escape could be reliably estimated from the display. 4. The bird that initiated the interaction was more likely to attack or stay, and less likely to escape, than its rival, but the relative probability of attack or escape after different displays was consistent, for birds in the two roles, within a sample. 5. By correlating the responses of the receiver with information about the signaller's future behaviour encoded in its display, it is possible to find whether this information is transferred in the interaction. There was variation between samples in the pattern of correlations, and no consistent evidence of information transfer could be found. 6. The data are discussed in the light of CARYL'S (1979) earlier discussion of models from games theory. The results show that a test of consistency is crucial for any hypothesis about the message carried by a particular display. They indicate that skua displays do not communicate intention in these interactions.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Psychology, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Scotland, U.K.

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