Eavesdropping of an African ground squirrel on the heterospecific alarm calls of a noisy ground-nesting bird
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Animals gather information about their environment from a variety of sources to enable adaptive decision-making behaviour. Eavesdropping on heterospecific alarm calls enhances predator avoidance, reduces time spent vigilant and allows for more time on daily activities such as foraging. If the information is relevant and reliable, individuals that respond to heterospecific signals may benefit from a wider range of information at a low marginal cost. The Cape ground squirrel (Xerus inauris) and crowned lapwing (Vanellus chilensis) are ground-dwelling species that are taxonomically distant but share similar predators, habitat and anti-predatory behaviours. We used playback experiments of the alarm calls produced by conspecifics and lapwings to investigate the vigilance responses of adult female Cape ground squirrels. Squirrels responded with greater vigilance to both squirrel and lapwing alarm calls and no changes of vigilance levels were observed in response to a control sound. However, contrary to our predictions, changes in vigilance and time to relax did not differ between conspecific versus heterospecific playbacks. The results from our study suggest that squirrels perceive lapwing alarm calls as relevant and reliable information and that responding to it could increase their survival.