Toward testing for multimodal perception of mating signals

Wouter Halfwerk, Judith Varkevisser, Ralph Simon, Ezequiel Mendoza, Constance Scharff, Katharina Riebel

Research output: Contribution to JournalReview articleAcademicpeer-review


Many mating signals consist of multimodal components that need decoding by several sensory modalities on the receiver's side. For methodological and conceptual reasons, the communicative functions of these signals are often investigated only one at a time. Likewise, variation of single signal traits are frequently correlated by researchers with senders' quality or receivers' behavioral responses. Consequently, the two classic and still dominating hypotheses regarding the communicative meaning of multimodal mating signals postulate that different components either serve as back-up messages or provide multiple meanings. Here we discuss how this conceptual dichotomy might have hampered a more integrative, perception encompassing understanding of multimodal communication: neither the multiple message nor the back-up signal hypotheses address the possibility that multimodal signals are integrated neurally into one percept. Therefore, when studying multimodal mating signals, we should be aware that they can give rise to multimodal percepts. This means that receivers can gain access to additional information inherent in combined signal components only ("the whole is something different than the sum of its parts"). We review the evidence for the importance of multimodal percepts and outline potential avenues for discovery of multimodal percepts in animal communication.

Original languageEnglish
Article number124
Pages (from-to)1-7
Number of pages7
JournalFrontiers in Ecology and Evolution
Issue numberAPRIL
Publication statusPublished - 17 Apr 2019


  • Animal communication
  • Emergent properties
  • Mate choice
  • Mating signals
  • Multimodal percepts
  • Perceptual or sensory binding
  • Sensory integration


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