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Adaptive ontogeny in response to ambiguous cues


Jung, Julie; McDaniel, James; Warkentin, Karen (2021), Adaptive ontogeny in response to ambiguous cues, Dryad, Dataset,


As animals develop, their capacities to sense cues, assess threats, and perform actions change, as do the relative costs and benefits that underlie behavioural decisions. We presented ambiguous cues to test if hatching decisions of red-eyed treefrogs, Agalychnis callidryas, change developmentally following adaptive predictions based on changing costs of decision errors. These arboreal embryos hatch prematurely to escape from egg predators, cued by vibrations in attacks. Young embryos modulate hatching based on frequency and temporal properties of cues, reducing false alarms that unnecessarily expose them to risk in the water. Since the cost of false alarms decreases developmentally, we hypothesized that hatching responses to ambiguous cues would increase. We tested this using vibration playbacks at two ages, with two sets of 3 stimuli. We matched sampling costs and varied ambiguity in either temporal or frequency properties, so one stimulus elicited high hatching (positive control) and two elicited low hatching but differed in ambiguity, based on prior results with younger embryos. Older embryos hatched faster, indicating reduced cue sampling. They responded strongly to both clear threat cues and ambiguous stimuli but little when either property clearly indicated low risk. In both experiments, we saw the greatest ontogenetic change in response to the more ambiguous stimulus. These playback experiments improve our understanding of how embryos facing risk trade-offs make adaptive decisions based on incidental cues from predators. Ambiguity in incidental cues is ubiquitous and developmental changes in behaviour due to ontogenetic adaptation of decision processes are likely to be widespread.


National Science Foundation, Award: IOS-1354072