How do animals use substrate-borne vibrations as an information source?

Naturwissenschaften. 2009 Dec;96(12):1355-71. doi: 10.1007/s00114-009-0588-8. Epub 2009 Jul 11.


Animal communication is a dynamic field that promotes cross-disciplinary study of the complex mechanisms of sending and receiving signals, the neurobiology of signal detection and processing, and the behaviors of animals creating and responding to encoded messages. Alongside visual signals, songs, or pheromones exists another major communication channel that has been rather neglected until recent decades: substrate-borne vibration. Vibrations carried in the substrate are considered to provide a very old and apparently ubiquitous communication channel that is used alone or in combination with other information channels in multimodal signaling. The substrate could be 'the ground', or a plant leaf or stem, or the surface of water, or a spider's web, or a honeybee's honeycomb. Animals moving on these substrates typically create incidental vibrations that can alert others to their presence. They also may use behaviors to create vibrational waves that are employed in the contexts of mate location and identification, courtship and mating, maternal care and sibling interactions, predation, predator avoidance, foraging, and general recruitment of family members to work. In fact, animals use substrate-borne vibrations to signal in the same contexts that they use vision, hearing, touch, taste, or smell. Study of vibrational communication across animal taxa provides more than just a more complete story. Communication through substrate-borne vibration has its own constraints and opportunities not found in other signaling modalities. Here, I review the state of our understanding of information acquisition via substrate-borne vibrations with special attention to the most recent literature.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amphibians / physiology
  • Animal Communication*
  • Animals
  • Birds / physiology
  • Female
  • Insecta / physiology
  • Male
  • Mammals / physiology
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Spiders / physiology
  • Vertebrates / physiology
  • Vibration*