Dynamic Changes in Begging Signal Short-Term Information on Hunger and Need

Christopher I. Gurguis, Renée A. Duckworth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Dynamic signals can convey distinct information to a receiver on different timescales, making assessment of how quickly signal strength changes important for understanding signal function. Here, we combine repeated measures of offspring begging behavior of western bluebirds with assessments of fitness as well as quantitative genetic analyses of cross-fostered offspring to investigate whether variation in begging behavior conveys information about hunger, need, or quality or has no signaling function. Begging intensity increased with food deprivation, supporting the signal-of-hunger hypothesis. However, after controlling for this variation, multiple lines of evidence showed that begging also signaled need but not quality. Specifically, begging intensity was repeatable only on short timescales, and nestlings that begged more intensely were in poorer condition. Moreover, variation in mean begging intensity was not strongly related to measures of fitness. In general, we found that begging behavior is a highly flexible trait that appears to be unconstrained by both genetic and early developmental influences, as indicated by the cross-fostering experiment that confirmed that the nest environment, not genetic relatedness, explained variation in begging behavior. Together, these results support the idea that begging dynamically signals shorter-term information: hunger and need. More generally, they show the importance of assessing the timescale of signal change to understand its function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)705-718
Number of pages14
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2022


  • begging
  • behavioral flexibility
  • dynamic signals
  • evolution of behavior

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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