Seasonal changes in mixed-species bird flocks and antipredator information

Demeng Jiang, Kathryn E. Sieving, Estelle Meaux, Eben Goodale*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Animals acquire information produced by other species to reduce uncertainty and avoid predators. Mixed-species flocks (MSFs) of birds are ubiquitous in forest ecosystems and structured, in part, around interspecific information transfer, with “nuclear” species providing information that other species eavesdrop on. We hypothesized that in a seasonal tropical forest, the amount of information produced by birds about predation would be dynamic and particularly would decrease inside MSFs when the nuclear species leave MSFs to breed. We obtained baseline information on MSF encounter rate and species composition along established sampling routes over 9 months near the Sino-Vietnamese border. We also conducted three experiments to quantify information produced by different species in response to typical predator encounters, including a moving predator stimulus presented inside of MSFs, and a stationary predator model presented both inside and outside of MSFs. MSFs were much less frequent in the breeding season with fewer individuals of the nuclear species, David's Fulvetta (Alcippe davidi), participating, though the diversity of other species remained stable. Fulvettas were the dominant producer of alarm-related information both to the moving and stationary stimuli in MSFs and were also among the most active mobbers to stimuli presented outside of MSFs. In the breeding season, they tended to call less to the moving stimulus, and substantially fewer individuals responded to the in-flock stationary stimulus. Other species increased their own information production at stationary predator stimuli (inside and outside of MSFs) during the breeding season, perhaps due to their increased investment in offspring during this time. Yet even during the breeding season, David's Fulvetta remained the highest producer of information about predators in MSFs. Hence, while we show that information production in MSFs can be somewhat dynamic, we describe a continually asymmetric communication system, in which a nuclear species is important to the whole community.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5368-5382
Number of pages15
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • antipredation behavior
  • mixed-species groups
  • mobbing
  • nuclear species
  • tropical seasonality


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