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It is commonly assumed that in order for animal signals to be advantageous, the information being signalled could not have been obtained otherwise, and is therefore 'cryptic' or 'private'. Here, we suggest a scenario in which individuals can gain an advantage by signalling 'public' information that is neither cryptic nor private. In that scenario, signalling increases the efficiency with which that 'public' information is transmitted. We formalize our idea with a game in which offspring can signal their condition to their parents. Specifically, we consider a resource-strapped parent who can only invest in one of its two offspring, and we allow offspring the chance to influence parental investment through a signal. A parent in the game seeks to invest in the higher-quality offspring, which it could identify either through a publicly available cue, such as body size, or by relying on a signal provided by the offspring. We find that if the signal can convey information about offspring quality more efficiently than cues, then signalling of condition between offspring and parents can be favoured by selection, even though parents could potentially have acquired the same information from the cue. Our results suggest that the biological function of signals may be broader than currently considered, and provide a scenario where low cost signalling can be favoured. More generally, efficiency benefits could explain signalling across a range of biological and economic scenarios.

Original publication




Journal article


J Evol Biol

Publication Date





806 - 813


animal communication, game, model, offspring begging, parental care, Animal Communication, Animals, Body Size, Cues