Eavesdropping on visual secrets
Private communication may benefit signalers by reducing the costs imposed by potential eavesdroppers such as parasites, predators, prey, or rivals. It is likely that private communication channels are influenced by the evolution of signalers, intended receivers, and potential eavesdroppers, but most studies only examine how private communication benefits signalers. Here, we address this shortcoming by examining visual private communication from a potential eavesdropper's perspective. Specifically, we ask if a signaler would face fitness consequences if a potential eavesdropper could detect its signal more clearly. By integrating studies on private communication with those on the evolution of vision, we suggest that published studies find few taxon-based constraints that could keep potential eavesdroppers from detecting most hypothesized forms of visual private communication. However, we find that private signals may persist over evolutionary time if the benefits of detecting a particular signal do not outweigh the functional costs a potential eavesdropper would suffer from evolving the ability to detect it. We also suggest that all undetectable signals are not necessarily private signals: potential eavesdroppers may not benefit from detecting a signal if it co-occurs with signals in other more detectable sensory modalities. In future work, we suggest that researchers consider how the evolution of potential eavesdroppers' sensory systems influences private communication. Specifically, we suggest that examining the fitness correlates and evolution of potential eavesdroppers can help (1) determine the likelihood that private communication channels are stable over evolutionary time, and (2) demonstrate that undetectable signals are private signals by showing that signalers benefit from a reduction in detection by potential eavesdroppers. © 2013 Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht.
Brandley, NC; Speiser, DI; Johnsen, S
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