How fox and rabbit say good night to each other
A behavioral biologist describes what animals and plants have to communicate to each other - and how they do it.
The world is filled with communication: animals, plants, fungi and even bacteria constantly exchange information with each other. In her book, the behavioral biologist Madlen Ziege presents diverse variations of biocommunication. The relaxed, entertaining style of writing shows that she has experience with science slams, where she has often presented her research to a lay audience. When reading, you often get the feeling that you are in a personal conversation with the author. Ziege not only tells about curiosities in the animal and plant kingdom, but also manages to convey basic biological and physical knowledge so vividly that it could almost be used as a party talk.
In the first part of the book, the behavioral biologist explains how information is exchanged. First of all, it is about how living beings send information - for example by means of colors, shapes, movements, sounds and smells. In the following, the focus is on the "receiving stations", i.e. the sensory organs. Incidentally, phenomena such as electromagnetic waves, the properties of sound or the membrane potential of cells are discussed.
The second part makes up by far the largest part of the work. Here Ziege uses many examples to explain who exchanges information with whom and why. Popular communication topics are of course the search for food or a partner. And since the information sent is often not only perceived by the intended recipient, a chirping, for example, with which a male bird wants to attract a female, can also give a cat important information for the search for food.
Deception is widespread among animals and plants. Orchid orchid (Ophrys apifera), for example, mimics the look and smell of female bees to attract pollinators. Some fishmales pretend to be interested in less attractive females in the presence of competitors, while courting the most attractive female as soon as they feel unobserved. Mushrooms, on the other hand, hunt roundworms by attracting them with scents and then catching them in snares made of fungal threads. In the best case, however, communication is to the advantage of all parties involved. Ziege also presents many examples of this – from plants that call for animal help when they are infested with pests, to meerkats that use different warning sounds to tell each other which type of predator is approaching from which direction.
It becomes clear how diverse the communication channels are. It has been shown that some plants can "hear" and sometimes send acoustic signals themselves. Thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana), for example, produces more defenses against pests if you play the sounds of caterpillars eating. And corn plants (Zea mays) produce clicking noises with their roots at a frequency of 220 Hertz. This is exactly the frequency range of sounds in which the plants orientate themselves during growth. However, the author does not answer the question raised in the blurb as to why one should talk to tomato plants.
The topic of communication runs through the volume as a red thread, but is not always the focus. Ziege only briefly touches on most of the case studies described. If you want to know more, you can refer to the detailed list of sources, which is divided into chapters.
It will be detailed in the third part. Here the author presents the results of her own doctoral thesis. In it she examined the communication of wild rabbits in urban and rural areas and came to some surprising conclusions. Although the rabbit density in the city was significantly higher than in the country at the time of the survey, the animals that settled in the cities lived together in significantly smaller groups. In rabbits, communication takes place both within the group and with other individuals, primarily through faeces and urine in shared latrines. As the author was able to demonstrate based on the distribution of latrines, city rabbits attach much more importance to marking the boundaries of their territory, while they have little to say to each other.
Finally, Ziege tries to transfer the knowledge about communication presented in the book to human understanding. While this is entertaining, it is limited to very superficial tips that have little to do with the actual content of the book. The work didn't need this artificial increase in utility at all: the casual, uncomplicated style makes reading fun, and at the same time you learn a lot about the nature that surrounds us - from individual cells to entire ecosystems.