Species diversity and interspecific information flow.

Eben Goodale*, Robert Magrath

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Interspecific information flow is known to affect individual fitness, population dynamics and community assembly, but there has been less study of how species diversity affects information flow and thereby ecosystem functioning and services. We address this question by first examining differences among species in the sensitivity, accuracy, transmissibility, detectability and value of the cues and signals they produce, and in how they receive, store and use information derived from heterospecifics. We then review how interspecific information flow occurs in communities, involving a diversity of species and sensory modes, and how this flow can affect ecosystem-level functions, such as decomposition, seed dispersal or algae removal on coral reefs. We highlight evidence that some keystone species are particularly critical as a source of information used by eavesdroppers, and so have a disproportionate effect on information flow. Such keystone species include community informants producing signals, particularly about predation risk, that influence other species’ landscapes of fear, and aggregation initiators creating cues or signals about resources. We suggest that the presence of keystone species means that there will likely be a positive relationship in many communities between species diversity and information through a ‘sampling effect' in which larger pools of species are more likely to include the keystone species by chance. We then consider whether the number and relative abundance of species, irrespective of the presence of keystone species, matter to interspecific information
flow; on this issue, the theory is less developed, and the evidence scant and indirect. Higher diversity could increase the quantity or quality of information that is used by eavesdroppers because redundancy increases the reliability of information or because the species provide complementary information. Alternatively, there could be a lack of a relationship between
species diversity and information if there is widespread information parasitism where users are not sources, or if information sourced from heterospecifics is of lower value than that gained personally or sourced from conspecifics. Recent research suggests that species diversity does have information-modulated community and ecosystem consequences, especially in birds, such as the diversity of species at feeders increasing resource exploitation, or the number of imitated species increasing responses to vocal mimics. A first step for future research includes comprehensive observations of information flow among different taxa and habitats. Then studies should investigate whether species diversity influences the cumulative quality or quantity of information at the community level, and consequently ecosystem-level processes. An applied objective is to conserve species in part for their value as sources of information for other species, including for humans.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBiological Reviews
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jan 2024


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