New publication: Coping with Danger and Deception: Lessons from Signal Detection Theory

By Øistein Haugsten Holen and Tom N. Sherratt in The American Naturalist. Open Access.


Signal detection theory (SDT) has been used to model optimal stimulus discrimination for more than four decades in evolutionary ecology. A popular standard model that maximizes payoff per encounter was recently criticized for being too simplistic, leading to erroneous predictions. We review a number of SDT models that have received less attention but have explicitly taken repeated encounters into account, focusing on prey choice, mate search, aggressive mimicry, and the aiding of kin. We show how these models can be seen as variants of a second standard model that can be analyzed in a unified framework. In contrast to the simpler model, in this second model a higher probability of an undesirable or dangerous event occurring may either decrease or increase the receiver’s acceptance rates. In each instance, the latter outcome requires undesirable events to be undesirable in a relative rather than an absolute sense. Increasing the abundance of desirable signalers or the payoff from accepting them may also either raise or reduce acceptance rates. Our synthesis highlights fundamental similarities among models previously studied on a case-by-case basis and challenges some long-held beliefs. For example, some classic predictions of Batesian mimicry can be reversed when model prey are protected by low profitability rather than harmful defense.

The American Naturalist, Vol. 197, No. 2, February 2021.
Electronically published December 23, 2020.
DOI: 10.1086/712246
Publication webpage.

Øistein Haugsten Holen1 and Tom N. Sherratt2

1 Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis (CEES), Department of Biosciences, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway
2 Department of Biology, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada

Tags: The American Naturalist;
Published Jan. 14, 2021 10:07 PM - Last modified Mar. 5, 2021 9:27 AM