Bargaining babblers: vocal negotiation of cooperative behaviour in a social bird

M. B. V. Bell, A. N. Radford, R. A. Smith, A. M. Thompson, A. R. Ridley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Wherever individuals perform cooperative behaviours, each should be selected to adjust their own current contributions in relation to the likely future contributions of their collaborators. Here, we use the sentinel system of pied babblers (Turdoides bicolor) to show that individuals anticipate contributions by group mates, adjusting their own contribution in response to information about internal state broadcast by others. Specifically, we show that (i) short-term changes in state influence contributions to a cooperative behaviour, (ii) individuals communicate short-term changes in state, and (iii) individuals use information about the state of group mates to adjust their own investment in sentinel behaviour. Our results demonstrate that individual decisions about contributions to a cooperative effort can be influenced by information about the likely future contribution of others. We suggest that similar pre-emptive adjustments based on information obtained from collaborators will be a common feature of cooperative behaviour, and may play an important role in the development of complex communication in social species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3223-3228
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences
Issue number1698
Publication statusPublished - 7 Nov 2010


  • contributions to cooperation
  • evolution of communication
  • sentinel behaviour
  • negotiation


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