Royal Society Publishing

The Evolution of Exploitation and Honesty in Animal Communication: A Model Using Artificial Neural Networks

David C. Krakauer, Rufus A. Johnstone


Conflicts of interest arise between signaller and receiver in most kinds of biological communication. Some authors have argued that this conflict is likely to give rise to deceit and exploitation, as receivers lag behind in the coevolutionary `arms race' with signallers. Others have argued that such manipulation is likely to be short-lived and that receivers can avoid being deceived by paying attention to signals that are costly and hence `unfakeable'. These two views have been hard to reconcile. Here, we present results from simulations of signal evolution using artificial neural networks, which demonstrate that honesty can coexist with a degree of exploitation. Signal cost ensures that receivers are able to obtain some honest information, but is unable to prevent exploitative signalling strategies from gaining short-term benefits. Although any one receiver bias that is open to exploitation will subsist for only a short period of time once signallers begin to take advantage of it, new preferences of this kind are constantly regenerated through selection and random drift. Hidden preferences and sensory exploitation are thus likely to have an enduring influence on the evolution of honest, costly signals. At the same time, honesty and cost are prerequisites for the evolution of exploitation. When signalling is cost-free, selection cannot act to maintain honesty, and receivers rapidly evolve to ignore signals. This leads to a reduction in the extent of hidden preference, and a consequent loss of potential for exploitation.

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