The benefits of costly signaling: Meriam turtle hunters

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Hunting, particularly when it involves large game that is extensively shared, has been suggested to serve as a form of costly signaling by hunters, serving to attract mates and allies or to deter competitors. Empirical evidence presented elsewhere on turtle hunting practiced by Meriam people of Torres Strait, Australia, supports several key predictions of the costly signaling account. Here we present evidence from the same study bearing on another key prediction, that signalers (hunters) gain social and reproductive benefits. Specifically, we find that successful hunters gain social recognition, have an earlier onset of reproduction, achieve higher age-specific reproductive success, and gain higher quality mates, who also achieve above-average reproductive success. Meriam hunters also average more mates (women who bear their offspring) and more co-resident sexual partners than other men, and these partners (but not mates) are significantly younger. Several lines of evidence thus support the idea that hunting is a form of costly signaling in this population. Alternative hypotheses involving reciprocity (from grateful recipients of meat) and direct offspring provisioning by hunters are not consistent with available evidence, but in the absence of experimental manipulation we cannot rule out a role for phenotypic correlation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)116-126
Number of pages11
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2003

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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