Bluffing in the forest: Neotropical Neomorphus ground-cuckoos and peccaries in a possible case of acoustic mimicry

Raposo do Amaral, Fabio; Macedo, Gabriel; Maldonado-Coelho, Marcos; Piacentini, Vitor; Keuroghlian, Alexine ; Biondo, Cibele

27 June 2017

Acoustic communication is particularly important in environments such as dense tropical forests, where the dim light constrains the efficacy of visual signals. In these environments, complex species interactions could promote the evolution of acoustic signals and result in intriguing patterns of mimicry and convergence. In the Neotropical region, Neomorphus ground-cuckoos frequently associate with herds of collared peccaries and white-lipped peccaries. Bill clacking behavior in ground-cuckoos closely resembles the sound of tooth clacking in peccaries and these acoustic signals are used in agonistic and foraging contexts in both species. Here we demonstrate that the acoustic characteristics of bill clacking in ground-cuckoos are more similar to tooth clacking of peccaries than to bill clacking of the more closely related Geococcyx roadrunner. We propose that two hypotheses may explain the evolution of the clacking behavior in these taxa. First, ground-cuckoos could mimic the clacking of peccaries to deceive predators since peccaries are more aggressive and capable of killing or repelling large predators, or to stimulate peccary movimentation and prey exposure. Second, ground-cuckoos and peccaries could mutually benefit from the use of similar signals to alert each other of the presence of predators. In this context, ground-cuckoos could serve as sentinels while peccaries could confer protection. We also discuss alternative explanations for this striking acoustic resemblance. Ground-cuckoos and peccaries provide an interesting opportunity to study how an ecological association could foster the evolution of acoustic mimicry.