Multimodal signals, imperfect information, and identification of sex in red-backed salamanders (Plethodon cinereus)

Document Type


Publication Date



Behavior and Ethology | Zoology


Theoretical treatments and empirical studies both suggest that signals that occur in multiple sensory modes have superior detectabilities, discriminabilities, and memorabilities. There is also an intuitive link between signal detectability, discriminability, and memorability and the quality of information that is transferred via the signaler. We investigated the role of information quality and sensory modality in the sexual identification of intruding conspecifics by territorial male red-backed salamanders (Plethodon cinereus). Our results imply that these salamanders are able to discriminate between intruding male and female conspecifics (based on the allocation of aggression) in bimodal scenarios (vision and olfaction) even under situations in which the information available about the intruders’ sexual identities is reduced in quality. In unimodal scenarios (olfaction only), male residents exhibited heightened levels of aggression toward male secretions and reduced levels of aggression toward female secretions. In unimodal scenarios where information pertaining to the sex of the stimulus was reduced in quality, male residents displayed intermediate levels of aggression relative to the responses that male and female stimuli received respectively. Although resident males touched bimodal stimuli significantly more than they touched unimodal stimuli, we were unable to find support for the notion that sensory modality greatly influences how male resident red-backed salamanders allocate aggression toward intruding male versus female stimuli.