Signal detection theory applied to giant pandas: Do pandas go out of
their way to make sure their scent marks are found?
The purpose of inter-animal communication is to allow signals released
by the animal to be perceived by others. Scent marking, with its
characteristics of specificity and delay, is thought to be the primary
mode of communication in giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca). The
“signal detection theory” predicts that animals choose the substrate
and location of their scent marks so that the signals released are
transmitted more widely and remain longer. As an energetically marginal
species, the cost of generating and marking chemical signals is costly
for pandas, so they are predicted to make trade-offs in scent marking.
However, existing studies do not account for the selective preferences
of pandas for marking, as they are only explained by the density of
marks at a certain location. Our study wanted to investigate whether the
marking behavior of pandas is indeed consistent with signal detection
theory. For the first time, we propose to use fecal counts to reflect
the intensity of habitat use by pandas, combined with mark counts to
determine the selective preference for marking. Our findings show that
the scent marking behavior of pandas is consistent with signal detection
theory, and that they go out of their way to ensure that their marks are
detected. The results of the study will help us to further develop the
conservation of pandas and their habitats.