Publications by EEOB faculty in 11 June - 27 June 2014

June 27, 2014

Male Greater Prairie Chicken displaying. Photo by Greg Schechter. 2010.

Are vocal signals used to recognize individuals during male–male competition in greater prairie-chickens (Tympanuchus cupido)?

Jennifer A. Hale, Douglas A. Nelson, Jacqueline K. Augustine. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. 2014. DOI 10.1007/s00265-014-1751-6.

Vocal signaling can be an important component of vertebrate communication during social interactions. If vocalizations vary among individuals but are consistent within a given individual, they may be used to discriminate among individuals. In many species, territorial males use vocalizations to discriminate between neighbors and strangers and either respond more aggressively toward strangers relative to neighbors (“dear enemy” effect) or they respond more aggressively toward neighbors relative to strangers (“nasty neighbor” effect). In the greater prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus cupido), male vocalizations are an integral part of the display males produce on leks. We investigated whether male greater prairie-chickens discriminate among familiar individuals on their own territory, familiar individuals outside their normal territory and strangers from a nearby lek. Vocal characteristics varied among males, suggesting that vocalizations may potentially be used by prairie-chickens to identify individuals. Males responded to playback of prairie-chicken calls by vocalizing at a faster rate and approaching the playback speaker, but did not vary in their response to the vocalizations based on the identity of the caller. Our results suggest that variation is present among the vocalizations of individual male greater prairie-chickens, but males do not appear to discriminate among familiar individuals and strangers based solely on their “boom” vocalizations. Greater prairie-chicken vocalization likely functions as a way of announcing that a territory is occupied and defended, but it may also serve as a way of advertising to conspecifics or as a signal that is secondary to other forms of communication.

Augustine Lab | Nelson, Borror Lab of Bioacoustics

Testing predictions of the Janzen–Connell hypothesis: a meta-analysis of experimental evidence for distance- and density-dependent seed and seedling survival

Liza S. Comita, Simon A. Queenborough, Stephen J. Murphy, Jenalle L. Eck, Kaiyang Xu, Meghna Krishnadas, Noelle Beckman and Yan Zhu. Journal of Ecology.102(4):845–856. 2014. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2745.12232


  1. The Janzen–Connell hypothesis proposes that specialist natural enemies, such as herbivores and pathogens, maintain diversity in plant communities by reducing survival rates of conspecific seeds and seedlings located close to reproductive adults or in areas of high conspecific density. Variation in the strength of distance- and density-dependent effects is hypothesized to explain variation in plant species richness along climatic gradients, with effects predicted to be stronger in the tropics than the temperate zone and in wetter habitats compared to drier habitats.
  2. We conducted a comprehensive literature search to identify peer-reviewed experimental studies published in the 40+ years since the hypothesis was first proposed. Using data from these studies, we conducted a meta-analysis to assess the current weight of evidence for the distance and density predictions of the Janzen–Connell hypothesis.
  3. Overall, we found significant support for both the distance- and density-dependent predictions. For all studies combined, survival rates were significantly reduced near conspecifics compared to far from conspecifics, and in areas with high densities of conspecifics compared to areas with low conspecific densities. There was no indication that these results were due to publication bias.
  4. The strength of distance and density effects varied widely among studies. Contrary to expectations, this variation was unrelated to latitude, and there was no significant effect of study region. However, we did find a trend for stronger distance and density dependence in wetter sites compared to sites with lower annual precipitation. In addition, effects were significantly stronger at the seedling stage compared to the seed stage.
  5. Synthesis. Our study provides support for the idea that distance- and density-dependent mortality occurs in plant communities world-wide. Available evidence suggests that natural enemies are frequently the cause of such patterns, consistent with the Janzen–Connell hypothesis, but additional studies are needed to rule out other mechanisms (e.g. intraspecific competition). With the widespread existence of density and distance dependence clearly established, future research should focus on assessing the degree to which these effects permit species coexistence and contribute to the maintenance of diversity in plant communities.

Comita Lab | Queenborough Lab