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Biol Lett. 2010 August 23; 6(4): 445–448.
Published online 2010 February 24. doi:  10.1098/rsbl.2010.0023
PMCID: PMC2936220

Experimental evidence that sentinel behaviour is affected by risk


Sentinels are a conspicuous feature of some cooperative societies and are often assumed to provide benefits in terms of increased predator detection. Similar to other cooperative behaviours, variation in investment in sentinel behaviour should reflect variation in the benefits of such behaviour. However, evidence for this is inconclusive: to date experiments have manipulated the cost of sentinel behaviour, and considerations of changes in the benefits of sentinel activity on investment patterns are lacking. Here, we experimentally manipulated the benefits of sentinel behaviour in the cooperatively breeding pied babbler (Turdoides bicolor) to assess whether this had any impact on sentinel activity. We simulated the presence of an unseen predator using playbacks of heterospecific alarm calls, and the presence of an actual predator using a model snake. In both cases, the increase in perceived predation risk caused an increase in sentinel activity, demonstrating that investment in sentinel activity increases when the benefits are greater.

Keywords: sentinel activity, pied babbler, predator detection, behavioural response

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