Communication is behavior involving signals. Signals are adaptations that transmit information and in this way are distinguishable from other aspects of the environment that incidentally contain information. Much communication occurs in a social environment of a network of several signalers and receivers. Signals are diverse, with several signal modalities (e.g., vision, hearing, smell) used for communication, some of which cannot be detected unaided by humans (e.g., ultraviolet color patterns of butterflies and the ultrasonic calls of bats).
The effectiveness of communication depends on conditions of both the physical and the social environment. These affect when and where communication occurs and the structure of the signal. The effects can occur over a range of timescales, from seconds to years, and often vary cyclically.
Signals can evolve through ritualization (of behaviors that are precursors of signals), through the use of preexisting sensory biases of receivers, and through information gathering in networks.
Communication has featured in two areas of current interest in behavioral ecology: whether signals are honest and how communication persists when there are large differences in the benefits between signalers and receivers. Animal signals also have a role as a census and monitoring tool in conservation.
See also: Chemical Communication; Fungal Defense Strategies; Semiotic Ecology; Social Behavior.
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