Behold My Triumph

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Science  02 Mar 2012:
Vol. 335, Issue 6072, pp. 1021
DOI: 10.1126/science.335.6072.1021-a

Triumph displays are something we regularly associate with professional athletes, who often celebrate their victories in sometimes quite memorable ways. Such displays also occur widely among animals—for example, as loud calls that follow a victory over a competitor for territory or a mate. The functions of these displays, however, are not well understood. This is because understanding a display's function requires knowing something about how it influences its potential receivers, and characterizing a receiver's impression of a display is challenging. Mouterde et al. use a clever approach to try to characterize the internal response of nesting little blue penguins to the call of a triumphant male. They briefly replaced the eggs of nesting birds (both males and females) with egg-shaped heart monitors and then experimentally exposed them to calls simulated to represent winners and losers. When later exposed to the same calls, the heart rates of males rose significantly in the presence of winners, but not losers. The heart rates of females rose in response to both types of calls. These results suggest that triumph calls operate to establish a dominance reputation for individuals, particularly among males, and may help animals avoid conflict. This may be especially important in animals like little blue penguins whose contact with other individuals is relatively infrequent.

Anim. Behav. 83, 605 (2012).

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