Energetic cost of communication

J Exp Biol. 2011 Jan 15;214(Pt 2):200-5. doi: 10.1242/jeb.047910.


Communication signals may be energetically expensive or inexpensive to produce, depending on the function of the signal and the competitive nature of the communication system. Males of sexually selected species may produce high-energy advertisement signals, both to enhance detectability and to signal their size and body condition. Accordingly, the proportion of the energy budget allocated to signal production ranges from almost nothing for many signals to somewhere in excess of 50% for acoustic signals in short-lived sexually selected species. Recent data from gymnotiform electric fish reveal mechanisms that regulate energy allocated to sexual advertisement signals through dynamical remodeling of the excitable membranes in the electric organ. Further, males of the short-lived sexually selected species, Brachyhypopomus gauderio, trade off among different metabolic compartments, allocating energy to signal production while reducing energy used in other metabolic functions. Female B. gauderio, by contrast, do not trade off energy between signaling and other functions. To fuel energetically expensive signal production, we expect a continuum of strategies to be adopted by animals of different life history strategies. Future studies should explore the relation between life history and energy allocation trade-offs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animal Communication*
  • Animals
  • Electric Fish / metabolism*
  • Electric Fish / physiology
  • Energy Metabolism*
  • Female
  • Gymnotiformes / metabolism
  • Gymnotiformes / physiology
  • Male
  • Sex Characteristics