In 1989, Hasson introduced the concept of an ‘amplifier’ within animal communication. This display reduces errors in the assessment of traits for which there is direct selection and renders differences in quality among animals more obvious. Amplifiers can evolve to fixation via the benefit they confer on high-quality animals. However, they also impose a cost on low-quality animals by revealing their lower quality, potentially leading these to refrain from amplifying. Hence, it was suggested that, if the level of amplification correlates with quality, direct choice for the amplifying display might emerge. Using the framework of signal detection theory, this article shows that, if the use of an amplifier is observable, direct choice for the amplifying display can indeed evolve. Consequently, low-quality animals may choose to amplify to some extent as well, even though this reveals their lower quality. In effect, the amplifier evolves to become a signal in its own right. We show that, as amplifiers can evolve without direct female choice and are likely to become correlated with male quality, selection for quality-dependent amplification provides a simple explanation for the origin of reliable signals in the absence of pre-existing preferences.
- Received February 11, 2016.
- Accepted May 13, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.