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Aggressive communication in aquatic environments

Frommen, JG (2019) Aggressive communication in aquatic environments. Functional Ecology, 34 (2). pp. 364-380. ISSN 0269-8463

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© 2019 The Author. Functional Ecology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of British Ecological Society. Aggressive interactions are ubiquitous among animals. They are either directed towards heterospecifics, like predators or competitors, or conspecifics. During intraspecific encounters, aggression often serves to establish hierarchies within the social group. Thus, in order to understand the mechanisms mediating social organization, it is important to comprehend the escalation and avoidance of aggressive behaviour. Overt aggressive interactions are costly not only in terms of increased risk of injury or death, but also due to opportunity costs and energy expenditure. In order to reduce these costs, animals are expected to communicate their strength and aggressive motivation prior to fights. For this purpose, they use different means of communication in various sensory modalities, that is visual, acoustic, chemical, mechanosensory and electric cues. These different modalities can convey different or similar information, underlining the importance of understanding the multimodal communication of aggression. Thus far, most studies on signalling during aggressive encounters have focussed on visual or acoustic cues, most likely as these are the two modalities predominantly used by humans. However, depending on the species’ ecology, visual or acoustic cues might play a minor role for many species. Especially in aquatic systems, visual communication is often hampered due to high levels of turbidity or limited light conditions. Here, alternative modalities such as chemical, mechanical or electrical cues are expected to play a prominent role. In this review, I provide an overview of different modalities used during aggressive communication in aquatic organisms. I highlight the importance of studying the role of multimodal communication during aggressive encounters in general and discuss the importance of understanding aquatic communication in the light of conservation and animal welfare issues.

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