Владимирова Элина Джоновна, Мозговой Джон Поликарпович
Sign Field Theory and Tracking Techniques Used in Studies of Small Carnivorous Mammals

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  • © Copyright Владимирова Элина Джоновна, Мозговой Джон Поликарпович (elyna-well@nm.ru)
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    The article is devoted to the problems of animal behavior. The population stability bases on information,received by animal through their habitatcharacteristics without direct visual contacts withother animals. Behavioral reactions may have the numericalexpression and can be calculated dependingon the research tasks. Formalization of the animal activityimplies simultaneous consideration of the followingfive parameters of the sign field: magnitude,anisotropy, intensity, the equivalent distance and thevalue of a given object. For a mammal, the equivalenceof really different objects is established on thebasis of equivalence of the animal"s interactions withthe objects.Publ.:Evolution and Cognition, 2003, Vol. 9, No. 1 https://www.yumpu.com/en/document/view/50224343/contents-konrad-lorenz-institute/80

  •   Evolution and Cognition, 2003, Vol. 9, No. 1.
      Elina Vladimirova/John Mozgovoy
       Key words: Adaptation, sign field, footprints, information, environment.
      Elina Vladimirova/John Mozgovoy
      Sign Field Theory and Tracking Techniques
      Used in Studies of Small Carnivorous Mammals
      The first zoologist who use snow tracking for studying mammalian ecology and behavior was Alexander FORMOZOV from Moscow. Snow tracking is the most effective technique for determining animals" home range. The theory that we are about to illustrate provides an explanation for phenomena of intrapopulatiol and interspecific animal communication. We will discuss small predator mammals that live in the wild in the environs of Samara, Russia. The species under consideration include the red fox (Vulpes vulpes), the pine marten (Martes martes) the ermine also known as short-tailed weasel (Mustela erminea), and the least weasel (Mustela nivalis). Studying the ways animals accumulate, store and pass on information brings us closer to the understanding of communication mechanisms for the above mentioned species. Our research focused on integration processes involving small predatory solitary mammals. We were mainly interested in studying those cases of ethological information exchange where animals obtain information through their habitat characteristics without direct visual contact with other animals. The proposed theoretical statements are based on many field observations in which the authors used original techniques. The semiotic status of the genetic code, interaction of animals by means of signs, and semiotic problems in general, were discussed in many serious works (SEBEOK 1972, 1976, 2001; KULL 1998, 2000; EMMECHE /HOFFMEYER 1991). The processes of encoding biological information on biochemical, biophysical, molecular- genetic and cellular levels are explained in semiotic context or through notions that, for the past few decades, have been used by semioticists and natural scientists likewise. For the branch of biosemiotics dealing with such processes Thomas A. SEBEOK suggested the term endosemiotics(SEBEOK 1976, pp149-188). The other branch deals with ethologic, ecological and communicational schemes developed in the context of semiotics. In SEBEOK"s classification, this branch is called exosemiotics(SEBEOK 1976, p156).
      came up with the idea of transforming endosemiotic
      codes into exosemiotic ones (SEBEOK2001, p62). Although it seems unlikely that such
      transformation will be possible in the near future,
      current ethological, ecological and socio-biological
      researches can actually open "the black box" of animal
      communication from the "exit" side without addressing
      the genetic code in general or specific codes
      of instinctive responses (i.e., behavioral responses
      characteristic of given animal species). On the molecular-
      genetic level, we have nucleotide sequences
      that encode the synthesis of particular ferments. On
      the ethological level, we deal with "genetically programmed"
      species-specific forms of environmental
      and behavioral perception. In other words, the issue
      In case of direct contacts, sign interaction between
      animals may take the form of a "dialogue" or
      transfer of information to a specific addressee. Besides,
      animals of many species remain solitary for
      the most part of their life and interact through their
      informative environment. Through direct contacts,
      animals pass on significant information about their
      condition and environment; an animal may contact
      its partner deliberately and expect it to respond.
      More often, however, we witness a situation where
      information is passed on to animals inhabiting the
      same or adjacent territory without any communicative
      intention of the sender who changes its habitat
      in the course of its natural life. Later on the information
      is "read" by a recipient animal which, in its
      turn, makes some changes to the environment and
      leaves information on its own life activity for visitors
      to come. The information on animal life activity
      is, therefore, accumulated and stored in the environment
      for a long time. To an individual animal
      such information may characterize its habitat, other
      individuals or acts of communication between
      other individuals if there have been any. Our field
      research has demonstrated that, for any particular
      animal, traces of life activity left by the animal"s
      conspecifics sharing the same habitat are more important
      than abiotic information.
      A scientist that uses the technique described below
      for studying sign interaction between animals,
      does not deal with their habitat as such; rather, he
      or she deals with an informative sign field activated,
      in its perception process, by an animal"s movement
      response. While a recipient animal is moving
      around in the sign field of its own or in that of a
      group, sign information is both read by the recipient,
      and produced to be read by other individuals
      that may visit the territory later. The sign field technique
      allows to split up the continuous information
      flow into "quanta" in which signifiers correlate with
      the signified. Therefore, this technique takes into
      account both the quantity and the physical form of
      sign information. It allows to measure sign behavior,
      mathematically process observation results, and
      model automatic regulation based on sign interaction
      of individuals. Buy using this technique one
      can simulate, in the form of field parameters, the
      real variety of elements comprising the information
      continuum. This is done, as much as possible, on
      the basis of perception of environmental sign information
      by its natural users.
      Jakob von UEXKÜLL
      demonstrated the unique
      character of the perceptional world of an individual
      animal (UEXKÜLL
      2001, p108). To describe the perceptional
      that is experienced by different species, he
      used the term
      . We support UEXKÜLL"s idea
      that animals" perception of reality is subjective. In
      our studies of this subjectivity we attempted to use
      calculations. This subjectivity accounts for the differences
      between sign fields of individual animals of
      the same species living in the same habitat. Parameters
      of biological sign fields are measurable. For a
      given animal, its sign field characteristics are also
      determined by the species it represents and the condition
      of its habitat. Communication process integrates
      the animal populations and, by doing so, balances
      the ecosystem structure.
      Solitary mammals living in the wild often communicate
      by leaving unaddressed "messages" which
      are "recorded" in various objects and events of their
      environment. As a recipient animal moves around,
      any such message takes the shape of a succession of
      signs which is somewhat similar to a "text line". In
      the process of perception, the sign information is
      actualised by the recipient in the form of a chain of
      movements. Within the limits determined by the
      species and actual motivation of the recipient animal
      the message may be polysemic.
      Inborn behavior mechanisms and specific experience
      acquired by an animal in ontogenesis ensure
      that the animal will, in some way, respond to environmental
      signals with its movements. To an extent,
      the boundaries of such experience are determined
      genetically, but they can vary a lot. It is the
      "learned" behavior component that accounts for a
      big difference that is sometimes observed between
      the inner worlds of two individual mammals. In the
      long run, behavioral polymorphism of individuals
      in a population of mammals provides for higher stability
      of ecosystems (MOZGOVOY 1976).
      As we move on from studying inborn forms of
      animal behavior to studying learned behavior (i.e.,
      behavior acquired in ontogenesis), it is important to
      remember that semiotic information should be distinguished
      from information in general. In information
      processing no new information is generated,
      the output being obtained from the input by
      carrying out pre-set operations. No new units of information
      with the meaning yet to be interpreted
      are created (FRUMKINA 1995, p103).
      Evolution and Cognition
      2003, Vol. 9, No. 1
      Sign Field Theory and Tracking Techniques Used in Studies of Small Carnivorous Mammals
      A number of issues of wild life ecology can be successfully
      addressed with a different approach which
      uses the concept of "message" without limiting the
      code boundaries for the information sender. This
      approach is supported by an Italian semioticist Umberto
      who distinguishes between
      and a
      sign message
      . According to ECO
      , a
      sign message
      has connotations emerging from the recipient"s life
      experience, whereas
      of any kind can be
      received by a properly tuned non-living mechanism.
      "A message that has no indications to the
      code used by the sender" can still be understood either
      on the basis of its "inner context" or from the
      "general communicative situation" (ECO 1998, p48,70-73).
      The theory of
      biological sign field
      has been confirmed
      by empirical evidence. The related techniques
      have been successfully tested. We believe
      that practical significance of the sign field theory
      goes beyond the scope of environmental science.
      The theory makes it possible to take into account
      both the physical form and the quantity of sign information
      in hierarchically structured semiotic systems.
      1. The Biological Sign Field Theory As an
      Ecological Model Used in Studies of
      According to N. P. NAUMOV
      , a biological sign field is
      "the total environmental impact of mammals that
      causes structural changes in their habitat" (NAUMOV
      1977, p339). The authors of the related field research
      technique define a biological sign field as "a
      spatio-temporal continuum which is formed by a
      functioning ecosystem and, at the same time, determines
      the functioning of this ecosystem" (MOZGOVOY/ROSENBERG
      1992, pp8-9). The function of a biological
      sign field is to inform animals of the
      environmental conditions, as well as the state of
      ecological systems. A sign field represents informative
      and communicative interaction between mammals
      and their environment. This interaction is
      studied from the sign information recipient"s point
      of view (VLADIMIROVA
      2002, p204). A specific sign
      field can be linked with an individual, a population,
      a specific group within a population (e.g., age or sex
      group), a co-adapted complex of environmentally
      close species, or a bioceonosis.
      The formulation of the biological sign field theory
      in 1992 by J. P. MOZGOVOY was preceded by
      many years of his studies of mammalian behavior:
      had been collecting his data by tracking
      animals in winter since 1961. In wildlife ecology the
      method of collecting data by following footprints
      and marks that animals leave on the snow is known
      "s technique
      It can
      be used to study various parameters of mammalian
      life activity during the winter (NASIMOVICH 1955; FORMOZOV 1959; OSHMARIN/PIKUNOV 1990). This
      technique, however, fails to provide the means to
      cover a very important aspect of ecosystem functioning,
      namely the aspect of passing on information.
      This drawback may be eliminated by the use of
      "elementary" movements of animals as units that
      ensure consistency of results obtained by the snow
      tracking method. An elementary movement can be
      a response to the perception of sign field objects (external
      cues) or to inner stimuli determining the
      dominant motivation of an animal. Choosing elementary
      movements as units of field material is a
      distinctive feature of the research method described.
      Ability "to read" animal footprints is not,
      however, sufficient for studying animal behavior in
      the wild. The researcher must have clear-cut objectives
      and some kind of elementary structure units to
      measure animal behavior. A serious research needs a
      strong theoretical basis. The theory of a biological
      sign field of mammals may form such a basis
      (MOZGOVOY/ROSENBERG 1992, pp30-31).
      The main challenge of applying this theory consists
      in maximizing the objectivity of studying
      movements of mammals in the subjectively significant
      environment. A researcher must not substitute
      his or her environmental perception for the animals"
      perception of the world. The objective interpretation
      of animal activity presents two methodological
      problems. The first one is the difficulty of
      "calibrating" environmental objects and events that
      provoke or may provoke animals" movement responses.
      It is difficult to determine the equality or
      inequality of signs for animals motivated in a certain
      way. Solving this problem would allow to take
      measurements. The second problem is the difficulty
      of determining the boundaries of the "quantum" of
      behavior which represents a movement response to
      a particular environmental cue (object or event)
      A researcher relates any such cue or sign perceived by
      an animal to an elementary movement response
      called a
      When collecting field material the researcher follows
      the footprints left by an animal and registers all
      environmental objects the animals orient themselves
      by and respond to with a movement. Learning
      to tell the species, age, sex, motivation and functional
      condition of an animal by looking at its
      Evolution and Cognition
      2003, Vol. 9, No. 1
      Elina Vladimirova/John Mozgovoy
      footprints on the snow, or to decide how fresh the
      footprints are takes years of field observation practise.
      A good observer should be able to identify
      those elements in the environment that have provoked
      a particular movement response of an animal.
      Animals have certain species behavior stereotypes.
      The knowledge of these stereotypes allows an
      experienced researcher to relate the animal"s movement
      activity in each particular situation to a particular
      kind of environmental signals and/or a particular
      sort of inner motivation. Wild predator
      mammals are quite "thrifty"-they mostly respond
      with a movement or some change of activity type to
      those environmental signals that carry a certain
      meaning to them. Thus, a good knowledge of wild
      life ecology is a prerequisite for the use of sign field
      technique. It will be of little or no use to a researcher
      lacking experience in field observation.
      The sign field theory views animal behavior as a
      succession of discrete movement responses (drives)
      which are determined by two sets of factors, internal
      and external ones. The internal factors include the
      animal"s species, the inborn power of its receptors, its
      genetic memory, individual characteristics (e.g., life
      experience, nervous system type, age and sex), its
      motivation and general behavior conditions in a particular
      situation. The external factors are environmental
      cues taken by the animal, which include the
      signs that indicate the population condition. The "elementary"
      movement responses (drives) are chosen
      as key elements of analysis.
      A number of examples
      will be given later in the article.
      Movements of a wild animal may be unguided by
      any visible landmarks.
      In such cases the string of
      footprints usually twists. Most of the time, however,
      animal movements
      guided by some events or objects
      such as micro-relief elements (hummocks and
      hollows), shrubs, tufts of grass, patches of ice, other
      animals" paths, snow burrows, traces of conspecific
      animals" feeding, cleaning or relaxation, ski-tracks,
      traces of birds etc. Animals go straight to such objects.
      The same object may provoke different movement
      responses in the same animal. For example, a
      fox smelling or hearing a rodent under the snow,
      may respond to this smell or noise in four ways: it
      may stop and prick up its ears, it may also stalk,
      jump or try to catch the prey. Although each of the
      above mentioned drives can be viewed as a combination
      of even simpler elements or movements,
      counting elements consisting the drive is not relevant
      for a researcher, unlike counting drives-the
      movements which create certain behavior stereotypes
      in animals of a given species in situations similar
      to the one described. Very often the movements
      of an animal can be correlated with particular
      events in its environment.
      We ignore the signified objects that cannot be related
      to particular footprints on the snow, which
      may be seen as a drawback of our method. We make
      a comparison between informational interactions
      of various individuals and/or groups with their environment.
      Therefore, we believe that we can leave
      out as unimportant those examples of animals" environmental
      perception which have not provoked
      any movement response, just as we reduce the numerator
      and denominator of a fraction in carrying
      out multiplication and division operations.
      Snow tracking technique presents a challenge for
      those urban citizens who have no winter outdoor
      experience in the wilderness or cannot ski well.
      Most city people have a vague idea of animal life in
      the wild, especially, in winter. The expansion of suburbs
      into the country accompanied by the increasing
      use of snowmobiles in the woods makes the use
      of the sign field technique even more difficult. As a
      result, this technique, although being a very interesting
      method of animal ecology research, has not
      been widely accepted. The situation is further complicated
      by the necessity for a researcher specializing
      in ecology to master concepts of semiotics.
      However, from our experience we know that this
      task can be accomplished.
      Species, sex, age and motivation of an animal can
      be identified by using the appropriate research techniques.
      The identification can only be successful if
      the researcher possesses good observation skills.
      When an animal"s motivation, sex or age characteristics
      cannot be determined for certain, some extra
      observation may be necessary for collecting enough
      data to be able to choose between alternatives. FORMOZOV"s tracking technique has become a standard
      practize of zoologist researchers studying wildlife in
      winter time. The method is quite sensitive and if applied
      with due care, can provide accurate quantitative
      In the process of analysing animal behavior in a
      biological sign field a researcher collects data on the
      code, meaning and value of sign information perceived
      by animals as they move in their habitat. The
      environmental cues which guide animals as they
      move are associated with the sign information
      The search for specific external cues, as well as attempts
      to avoid them, is associated with the
      of information. The intensity of movement responses
      to particular environmental cues indicate
      (significance) of information.
      Evolution and Cognition
      2003, Vol. 9, No. 1
      Sign Field Theory and Tracking Techniques Used in Studies of Small Carnivorous Mammals
      Patterns of objectively discrete elementary behavior
      acts are considered to be the main characteristics
      of the mammalian sign field. Movement elements,
      behavioral reactions of the same motivation,
      and parameters of the sign field which represents
      the animal"s signal-information environment, may
      be expressed numerically and calculated according
      to the researcher"s needs. It is important to remember
      that it is the individual whose information links
      are studied that serves as a "tool" or "device" to determine
      the field parameters. Information/sign interaction
      between animals and their environment
      can be studied not only on the level of individuals,
      but also on the level of populations, species or biocenosis.
      The field material collected by using the snow
      tracking method can be organized in the following
      two ways:
      1. Formalization of elementary movement acts and
      environmental cues, with the emphasis on the
      motivational type of the individual"s behavior.
      2. formalization of certain traits of an individual interacting
      with the environment, with the emphasis
      on those environmental cues that provoked
      the movement response;
      In the first case an individual"s behavior is represented
      as a succession of drives and the researcher"s
      attention is focused on the environmental cues as
      physical bearers of information that provoked
      movement responses, and on the quantitative assessment
      of these responses.
      With this approach, the field parameters are not
      measured on an absolute spatio-temporal scale of
      physical or chemical states (in other words, this approach
      does not look at the reality detached from
      the perception of environmental cues by an animal);
      rather, they are measured on "informational"
      space and time scales that are characteristic of a living
      Parameters of a sign field characterize its structure,
      i.e., the internal organization of a field as a
      sign-information system. This structure is determined
      by analysing interrelations between environmental
      objects-sign bearers-on one hand, and
      animals that perceive the signs as they move
      around, on the other.
      In the second case drives are classified according
      to the dominant type of animal behavior (e.g., orienting
      towards objects, searching, exploration, relaxation
      and cleaning, defensive behavior). The
      data obtained characterize the animal"s responses to
      particular signs in the process of their movement activity
      1992, pp27-28).
      Formalization of the spatio-temporal information
      continuum of a sign field implies simultaneous
      consideration of the following five parameters of
      the field: magnitude, anisotropy, intensity, the
      equivalent distance and the value (significance) of a
      given object. The structure of a sign field, its functioning
      and main patterns of transformation can be
      determined by these characteristics:
      1. the
      of a field is the number of
      of environmental objects and events involved
      in the information recipient"s activity (two
      objects or events are considered to be of a different
      kind if animals of the given species with the given
      type of motivation respond to them by showing
      different behavior patterns). A characteristic of
      the subjectively significant part of the environment
      or the scope of environmental perception,
      the field magnitude shows the extent to which the
      state of animals" environment meets their expectations;
      2. the
      of a field is the total number of
      environmental cues (objects and events) to which
      animals respond by some kind of movement.
      Anisotropy indicates the selectiveness of interaction
      between animals and their habitat;
      3. the
      of a field is the number of elementary
      movement responses to all environmental cues
      (the number of drives). It indicates the extent to
      which the information recipients" environmental
      expectations are met;
      4. the equivalent distance is the distance (measured
      in meters) covered by a given animal or group of
      animals as they make 100 drives. It shows the impact
      of an individual or a group of animals on
      their habitat. The equivalent distance serves as a
      quantitative measure of the "information expansion"
      of the target object of studies. By reducing
      the above three field parameters to the equivalent
      distance one can obtain comparable numerical
      values of field parameters for animals with different
      body size and speed of biochemical reactions.
      For animals of different species any given equivalent
      distance used as a group field characteristic
      will correspond with the same number of drives
      and the same field intensity;
      5. the value of a given sign (environmental cue) is
      the number of elementary movement responses it
      provoked in the animal or group under consideration.
      For the mammals covered by our research all sign
      field parameters fall under the influence of both internal
      (inborn), and external (environmental) factors.
      However, all other things being equal, the magEvolution
      and Cognition
      2003, Vol. 9, No. 1
      Elina Vladimirova/John Mozgovoy
      nitude of a sign field primarily indicates the variety
      of environmental cues that are new or present some
      interest to all representatives of a given species; in
      other words, it shows the character of information
      received. The field anisotropy primarily characterizes
      animal motivation, or the meaning of the information
      received. It is measured as the total number
      of the most preferable objects in the subjectively
      perceived landscape. Sign field intensity primarily
      characterizes an individual"s willingness to respond
      to environmental cues; in other words, it shows the
      value of information received. The equivalent distance
      of a field is primarily associated with the species
      represented by the individual or group under
      consideration. This distance depends on how the
      individual or group perceive calendar time. In the
      theory of sign field time is seen as a measure of
      changes in the environment.
      In biosemiotics the interaction between organisms
      and their environment is interpreted as a
      meaning of the lowest degree of semiosis (STEPANOV
      1971, p28). For any particular organism its ability to
      recognize environmental objects closely correlates
      with the frequency and regularity of interaction between
      the organism and a given environment object.
      Signs primarily develop through the most regular
      interactions relevant to the life cycle.
      In the language of humans trying to interprete
      the signs of interactions between mammals the
      same word may refer to a number of different objects
      or events. How can one tell, in trying to determine
      the magnitude of a sign field, whether two or
      more objects or events have the same meaning to an
      animal or a group of animals? For a mammal, the
      equivalence of really different objects is established
      on the basis of equivalence of the animal"s interactions
      with the objects. We consider two different environmental
      cues as having equal meaning if animals
      of the same species, driven by the same type of
      motivator, respond to them in exactly the same
      way, i.e., by rather stereotyped behavior.
      It should be noted that there are two different
      ways to calculate the magnitude, intensity and
      anisotropy of a biological sign field; the choice depends
      on the researcher"s needs. In the first approach,
      these parameters are expressed in relation
      to the length of the string of footprints, measured in
      meters. In studying foxes" behavior, for example, it
      is convenient to calculate the field parameters for a
      string of footprints one thousand meters long. The
      second way of calculation is used to compare different
      animal species behavior or to calculate the parameters
      of a group sign field. In this second case the
      magnitude and anisotropy are calculated per unit of
      the equivalent distance. The field intensity divided
      by the equivalent distance always equals 100 drives,
      but the equivalent distance itself, expressed in
      meters, varies a lot. Of all techniques used in the statistical
      analysis of information field parameters variance
      analysis is the most convenient one.
      Figures 1 and 2 illustrate the field material collection
      technique that takes into consideration sign
      field parameters. Fig. 1 shows footprints of a red fox
      (Vulpes vulpes)
      . The footprints were left while the animal
      was searching for food. The fox was moving
      from left to right. As it moved along, it was guided
      by the following succession of objects: (1) a skitrack,
      (2) a tree, (3) the same ski-track, (4) another
      tree, (5) the same ski-track once again, (6) footprints
      of an elk (
      Alces alces
      ), (7) the same elk"s footprints on
      the ski-track, (8) a stump, (9) a bush, (10) another
      stump (or, rather, a broken tree). In this case we are
      dealing with six different kinds of objects: (1) a skitrack,
      (2) a tree, (3) footprints of an elk, (4) the same
      elk"s footprints on the ski-track, (5) a stump, and (6)
      a bush; thus, the magnitude of the sign field is 6.
      The total of ten objects provoked movement responses
      in the information recipient (the fox); thus,
      the field anisotropy equals ten. The field intensity
      on the given part of the animal"s snow track equals
      twelve, which means that we can identify 12 elementary
      movements with which the animal responded
      to environmental cues. The following is
      the list of environmental cues with the number of
      responses to each cue in parentheses: the first encounter
      with a ski-track (1), a tree (1), the second encounter
      with the ski-track (1); another tree (1); the
      Figure 1: These footprints belong to a red fox"s (Vulpes vulpes).
      The sign field has the magnitude of 6 (i.e., the animal encounters
      6 different kinds of objects, or environmental cues, to
      which it actively responds). The sign field anisotropy, i.e., the
      total number of environmental cues to which the animal responds,
      equals ten. The sign field intensity, i.e. the total number
      of "elementary" movement responses equals twelve.
      Evolution and Cognition
      2003, Vol. 9, No. 1
      Sign Field Theory and Tracking Techniques Used in Studies of Small Carnivorous Mammals
      third encounter with the ski-track (1), an elk"s footprints
      (1), the same elk"s footprint on the ski-track
      (1); a stump (3 responses: approaching, territory
      marking, and reorientation-the animal turned
      around and paused), a bush (1)-the fox moved towards
      it,-and another stump (1). The question is
      whether we should consider an elk"s footprints on a
      ski-track as a sign which is different from both a skitrack
      and an elk"s footprints off a ski-track, or consider
      it to be a simple combination of the two objects
      that the animal came across earlier? Answering
      this kind of question will require a long animal observation
      practice. Our observation experience
      shows that the information that a fox derives from
      an elk"s footprints on a ski-track is quite different to
      the one that it gets from a ski-track without footprints
      or from an elk"s footprints off a ski-track.
      When they cross "dangerous" spots associated with
      human activities, animals often follow other animals,
      trying to imitate their behavior. The figure
      shows that, near the ski-track, the fox followed the
      elk"s footprints precisely, trying to walk "in step"
      with the elk; but once it crossed the ski-track, it noticed
      a stump and moved towards it. Animals often
      follow other beasts" footprints, or the ones they left
      themselves earlier on.
      Before collecting field material a researcher decides
      what length (in meters) of the string of footprints
      he or she is going to study. This enables him/
      her to compare the sign field parameters obtained
      for different animals. In the given example the fox"s
      sign field parameters were calculated for a 1,000-
      meter-long string of footprints. This length was
      chosen experimentally. First, it was found that, on a
      stretch of about 1,000 meters, a fox comes across the
      entire variety of objects that can possibly arouse its
      interest. A researcher who follows footprints of a fox
      beyond the 1,000-meter point is unlikely to discover
      any objects meaningful to the animal, other
      than those that he or she has already seen. Second,
      the distance of 1,000 m is convenient for calculations:
      it is comparable to both the size of a hunting
      area that a red fox can cover within 24 hours, and
      the size of an area in the woods that a researcher
      tracking animal footprints in the snow can possibly
      cover during one field trip.
      The string of footprints shown in Figure 2 belongs
      to a pine marten
      (Martes martes)
      . In this case
      the sign field has the magnitude of four-the animal
      came across four different objects that provoked
      its movement responses: (1) a large forked
      tree, (2) a bush, (3) a blade of grass, and (4) a stump.
      The anisotropy of the marten"s sign field for the
      given section of its track of footprints (the total
      number of environmental cues/objects) also equals
      four, as all the objects are different. How did we decide
      that the large forked tree in the beginning of
      the studied section of the track and the stump with
      a branch sticking out meant different things to the
      marten? Once again, the researcher"s decision was
      based on his long-term observation experience and
      professional intuition arising from his recollections
      of animals" responses to such kinds of objects. Animals
      of any particular species respond to environmental
      cues with a rather stereotyped set of movements
      which can be compared to a set
      "vocabulary". Martens searching for small rodents
      almost always jump on low stumps coming into
      sight unless they start seeing footprints of a fox
      quite often or for long periods of time, in which case
      they usually climb trees. The sight of foxes" footprints
      seems to put martens under stress. The intensity
      of the sign field of the marten whose track of
      footprints is shown in Figure 2 equals ten. (Such is
      the number of "elementary movements" with
      which the marten responded to the above mentioned
      four environmental cues). As for the forked
      tree, it provoked two responses in the animal: the
      marten approached it and leaned to it. As it moved
      Figure 2: These footprints belong to a pine marten (Martes martes).
      The sign field has the magnitude of 4, the anisotropy in
      this case equals the magnitude, and the intensity equals 10.
      Evolution and Cognition ❘ 8 ❘ 2003, Vol. 9, No. 1
      Elina Vladimirova/John Mozgovoy
      further, the marten switched from galloping to a
      trot without any noticeable reason (unguided by
      any particular cue), which counts as one response;
      the bush and the blade of grass provoked one response
      each; the stump provoked three responses-
      the marten approached it, then jumped on it, and
      finally jumped off it; these responses were followed
      by another change of pace without any traceable
      cause (one other response); all in all, we have
      counted ten elementary movement responses. On
      its way the animal crossed a little hollow, but since
      this micro relief element did not provoke any response,
      it was not taken into consideration in the
      calculation the field magnitude. However, this landmark
      is worth being registered by a researcher, since
      it might have a meaning to an animal under different
      circumstances. Thus, a hollow has a different
      meaning to a fox than it does to a marten, since
      foxes, when they have a short rest during their
      hunting, sometimes lie down on a sunlit slope protected
      from the wind-"this way they can fully enjoy
      the heat of the sun by exposing one side to direct
      sun rays and the other side to the heat reflected
      from snow or a tree stump" (FORMOZOV 1959, p22).
      Once the dominant motivation is known, assumptions
      can be made on the corresponding signified
      objects. The motivation provides the context of
      a message which an animal may receive from its
      habitat. Animals are motivated by their physiological
      needs such as hunger, thirst, the need to clean
      themselves, the need to rest, the need to reproduce,
      etc. Motivation of an animal can be increased by its
      emotional state. To the above-mentioned needs we
      should add the automatic stimulation phenomenon.
      As a result of this phenomenon a given type of
      behavior persists for some time after the physiological
      need that caused it was practically satisfied. Familiar
      environmental signals of low and medium
      intensity that provoke changes in the animal"s behavior
      cannot change the animal"s major (predominant)
      type of behavior. Such side signals may, however,
      cause temporary shifts in the animal"s
      behavior. Activities to which the animal switches
      for short periods of time represent minor types of
      behavior. Long persistence of a particular type of behavior
      in an animal may cause nervous strain. Animals
      have a very short attention span; as a result,
      they alternate their major type of behavior with the
      minor types.
      Since the proposed method of research requires
      the registration of animal movement responses,
      someone may have an impression that it is based on
      the theory of behaviorism. In fact, this impression is
      far from the truth. The main problem of zoosemioticians
      arises from the fact that they have no other
      way to determine the signified, but through the
      study of the signifier. Behaviorists have reduced this
      idea to absurdity by denying the very concept of the
      signified. The toughest challenge an animal tracker
      will face is splitting up the continuum of the animal"s
      perception into units matching the animal"s
      behavior patterns. In other words, we are dealing
      with a purely semiotic problem of attributing signifiers
      to the hypothetical objects they signify. In linking
      the signifiers with the signified it is important to
      know the traits of animals tracked as well as their
      sign system.
      The authors of the mammalian sign field theory
      sought to provide researchers with tools to assess
      the informational contribution of different species
      and animals with different speed of biochemical reactions,
      to the alteration of their common habitat.
      By determining the magnitude, anisotropy and intensity
      of a sign field we can formalize communication
      processes in populations and co-adapted complexes
      of close mammal species, and compare
      adaptive behavior responses of different individuals,
      populations, species and representatives of different
      conspecific intra-population groups (e.g.,
      groups of individuals of specific age or sex) (MOZGOVOY
      1989, pp138-150).
      The sign field theory provides the minimal set of
      parameters with which one can assess the population
      trends of small predatory mammals living
      across the Volga river from the city of Samara, Russia
      (MOZGOVOY 1983, pp105-107 **MISSING IN
      REFS**). According to the population self-regulation
      theory (SCHWARTZ 1980, pp126,164-166; GILIAROV
      1990, p105), populations of mammals can maintain
      their number on the level appropriate for their habitat
      conditions. Apart from genetic mechanisms
      which predetermine the dominance of genotypes
      with a higher or lower fertility level, depending on
      the population size, there are other mechanisms
      that may cause changes of population; namely,
      stress mechanisms which change mammals" behavior
      and the size of their ecological niche (DAJOZ
      1975, p245; GILLER 1988, p32). The hypothesis of
      the behavior regulation of predator mammals number
      puts forward the idea that social behavior depends
      on the population density at a certain moment
      of time; endocrine predator responses to a
      higher density change, first of all, territory and reproductive
      behavior responses through the increase
      of "individuals" aggression" (ROSENBERG/MOZGOVOY/
      GELASHVILLY 1999, p213).
      Evolution and Cognition ❘ 9 ❘ 2003, Vol. 9, No. 1
      Sign Field Theory and Tracking Techniques Used in Studies of Small Carnivorous Mammals
      The sign field theory and the related tracking
      technique helped solving a number of specific ecological
      problems. For example, we have compared
      responses of individuals and groups living under
      different degrees of anthropogenic pressure.
      Table 1 shows sign field parameters for a fox
      (Vulpes vulpes), a marten (Martes martes), an ermine
      (Mustela erminea) and a weasel (Mustela nivalis). The
      field magnitude was calculated for the distances
      equivalent to the same number of drives for all the
      animals. It shows the variety of environmental cues
      to which the animals responded. For the fox 100 elementary
      movement responses occurred on the section
      of its track 900 m long, for the marten the average
      distance equivalent to the same number of
      drives is 343 m, the equivalent distances for the ermine
      and the weasel are 220 m and 145 m respectively.
      The field intensity for the equivalent distance
      equals 100 elementary movements. The field anisotropy
      is determined as the total number of objects
      and events to which the animal responded while
      covering a fixed length of its track. Anisotropy may
      also be determined for the distance equivalent to
      100 drives. In the example illustrated by the data in
      Table 1, anisotropy and intensity were calculated for
      1,000 m of the animal"s track of footprints. This was
      done to demonstrate the difference in the tempo of
      motion activity for different species. The research
      was carried out in the woods of flood-lands of the
      Volga valley in the Samara Oblast of Russia in 1978-
      As we see, some species respond to a greater variety
      of environmental cues than the other, due to
      more extensive environmental ties and better
      adaptability. The variety of an animal"s ties with the
      environment can be measured as the number of environmental
      cues reflected in the animal"s behavior.
      Among the predator mammals studied, the fox,
      whose sign field has a considerable magnitude, has
      the greatest ability to perceive, assimilate and transform
      environmental cues; therefore, it can be considered
      the dominant species in the co-adapted
      complex inhabiting woody flood-lands in the environs
      of Samara. Of the four species under consideration
      the fox has the lowest, and the weasel-the
      highest intensity of the sign field. The marten"s sign
      field, for example, is 2.5-3.0 times more "intensive"
      than the fox"s. One-way analysis of variance
      (ANOVA) has shown that the variance of intensity
      of an individual"s sign field does not exceed the difference
      in field intensity between species, though
      for the marten the ratio of the highest to the lowest
      level of field intensity may be close to 2:1. The same
      is true about the variance of anisotropy within one
      species and between the species.
      The material is divided into four parts according
      to the predominant type of motivation. Such division
      is necessary, since the sign field parameters depend
      on the type of behavior prevailing over a 24-
      hour period. Prevailing types of behavior are easy to
      identify: they normally show themselves through,
      as long as the study of an animal"s behavior over a
      24-hour period is complete. As animals change their
      activities going through the necessary stages between
      resting and hunting, all the sign field parameters
      increase.Let us now examine the sign field parameters
      of several individual foxes of different sex,
      age, and type of behavior. Each of these three factors
      somehow influences the sign field parameters. To
      estimate this influence analysis of variance was
      used. Fisher"s criterion was applied to assess the reliability
      of the estimation. The data taken from the
      work of J. P. MOZGOVOY and I. V. YUDINA (1995) are
      shown in Table 2.
      Table 3 shows how the tempo of life (the speed of
      biochemical reactions) of the marten and the fox
      changes with age. The same animals were tracked
      during four winters while they were searching for
      food in the woods around the city of Samara, Russia.
      We can see that the tempo of life of any individual
      slows down with age. As it is known from various
      scientific publications, this phenomenon is attrib-
      Fox Marten Ermine Weasel
      Number of animals
      7 14 2 3
      Total length of
      animal tracks (m)
      37,823 82,162 1,325 1,000
      Average field
      23.4 18.5 17.0 11.0
      Field magnitude
      18-33 12-32 15-18 5-17
      Average anisotropy 44 107 234 197
      Anisotropy range 42-67 99-200 - -
      Average intensity 111 289 468 695
      Intensity range 97-150 240-456 - -
      Table 1: Sign field parameters for the red fox (Vulpes vulpes),
      the pine marten (Martes martes), the ermine (short-tailed weasel)
      (Mustela erminea) and the least weasel (Mustela nivalis).
      Field magnitude is calculated for the distance equivalent to
      100 drives. Field intensity and anisotropy are calculated for
      sections of animal tracks 1,000 m long. The tracking was done
      in the woods of the Volga flood-lands across the river from the
      city of Samara, Russia in 1978-1982 (MOZGOVOY/ROSENBERG
      Evolution and Cognition ❘ 10 ❘ 2003, Vol. 9, No. 1
      Elina Vladimirova/John Mozgovoy
      The animal"s sex
      and age group
      Length of
      track (m)
      Distance equiv.
      to 100 drives
      Escaping danger
      (passive defensive
      Adult male 1,655 26 48 157 658
      Adult female 1,024 26 99 284 1,284
      Adult female 1,884 11 36 119 397
      for food)
      Adult female 1,588 36 121 354 284
      Adult female 988 32 112 443 226
      Adult female 1,705 27 143 439 228
      Adult female 1,443 34 149 334 275
      Change of
      feeding territory
      Adult male 2,584 36 88 242 413
      Adult male 2,295 24 61 203 493
      Adult male 1,094 35 63 233 429
      Adult male 1,874 15 67 176 568
      Young male 2,358 21 47 98 1,020
      Young male 957 18 73 180 556
      Young male 1,060 21 53 174 575
      Adult female 1,478 23 76 254 394
      own territory
      Adult female 1,114 42 89 408 245
      Adult male 1,541 46 106 434 230
      Adult male 1,549 44 139 373 268
      Young male 1,324 30 128 378 265
      Table 2: The sign field parameters calculated for red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) with different behavior types. The magnitude,
      anisotropy and intensity were calculated for a 1000 m length of a track of footprints. Forests in the environs
      of Samara, Russia, 1994. (MOZGOVOY/YUDINA 1995).
      Sign field
      1980 1981 1982 1983
      Adult female
      Intensity - 473 407 310
      Magnitude - 38 34 32
      Young male
      Intensity 540 - 397 -
      Magnitude 41 - 27 -
      Adult male
      Intensity - - 276 195
      Magnitude - - 38 28
      Table 3: Changes in sign field intensity and magnitude demonstrating
      the lowering tempo of life for twp pine martens
      (Martes martes) and a red fox (Vulpes vulpes) as the animals
      advance in age. The parameters were calculated for a 1,000-
      meter-long section of a track of footprints. The tracking was
      done in the woods of the Volga flood-lands across the river
      from the city of Samara, Russia in 1980-1983. (MOZGOVOY/
      ROSENBERG 1992)
      Sign field
      Average number of elementary movement
      responses to the footprints
      of a given species representative
      human fox marten ermine weasel
      Fox 26.4 18.6 31.4 0.8 - -
      Marten 20.5 16.0 4.0 18.8 - -
      Ermine 19.0 6.1 6.1 0.3 21.5 -
      Weasel 12.0 4.6 20.2 0.5 - 2.9
      Table 4: Information ties between the species of the same coadapted
      complex. The field magnitude is calculated for the
      distance equivalent to 100 drives. The tracking was done in
      the environs of Samara, Russia, in 1992 (MOZGOVOY/ROSENBERG
      Evolution and Cognition ❘ 11 ❘ 2003, Vol. 9, No. 1
      Sign Field Theory and Tracking Techniques Used in Studies of Small Carnivorous Mammals
      uted to decreasing metabolism. Research of the
      same kind conducted during field seasons of 1993-
      2000 confirmed that there is correlation between
      animals" age and their tempo of life.
      Let us now look at another example of how the
      sign field technique can be applied in animal ecology
      studies: this time we are going to examine the
      information links between the fox, the marten, the
      ermine and the weasel. Each of the four species of
      this complex reacts differently to the signs left by
      animals of the other species. This difference is
      clearly demonstrated in Table 4, which allows to
      build a hierarchy of informational dependence of
      the given species on the other species.
      The analysis of the data presented in the table
      shows that, for any individual animal, traces left by
      animals of the same species have a much higher informational
      value than traces left by animals of any
      other species.
      From the above we can draw the following conclusions.
      Animals of species with similar feeding
      habits that live in the same area, form the so-called
      co-adapted complex. (A co-adapted complex consists
      of populations representing several species
      with similar ecological requirements to their habitat
      (MOZGOVOY/ROSENBERG 1992, pp43-45). The niches
      occupied by the species represented in a co-adapted
      complex overlap. Animals within any given coadapted
      complex exchange information on their
      habitat structure. The species of the same coadapted
      complex respond to the same or similar environmental
      cues. Their sign fields consist of similar
      elements and do not differ a lot in magnitude. Animals
      respond to animals" footprints more actively
      than to landmarks. The intensity of contacts between
      individuals of the same species is higher than
      the intensity of interspecific contacts. The sign
      fields of males and females of the same species differ
      in magnitude. Compared to females, males respond
      more intensively to any unusual environmental
      cues including anthropogenic signs. The above conclusions
      based on the materials collected before
      1992 were once again confirmed by our later research
      carried out in 1993-2000.
      In the following example we compare the sign
      fields of animals living in similar environments
      which only differ in the degree of human impact
      on them. The data presented in Table 5 were collected
      during the winter months in 1978-1985. We
      studied the sign fields of 12 adult pine martens
      (Martes martes) living in the Volga flood-lands
      across the river from the city of Samara, in Krasnosamarskoye
      Preserve 100 km east of Samara, and
      in Bashkirsky Wildlife Reservation (Bashkortostan,
      the Southern Urals). The human impact on the animals"
      habitat increases as we go from BASHKIRSKY
      Reservation to Krasnosamarskoye Forestry to the
      environs of the city of Samara. The sign field intensity
      was calculated for 1,000-meter-long sections of
      animal tracks of footprints. This parameter characterizes
      the tempo of animal"s life by showing how
      actively they move, and is determined as the total
      number of elementary movement responses per
      unit of distance.
      As we can see, the pine marten shows a higher level
      of activity in the area with the stronger human impact
      on the environment. It results in the higher values
      of the sign field anisotropy and intensity. The anthropogenic
      factor causes a larger increase in the field
      intensity of females compared to males. An increase
      in the anisotropy and intensity of biological sign
      fields may indicate that animals are put under stress.
      Behavior type Parameter
      Bashkirsky Wildlife Reservation
      and Krasnosamarskoye Forestry
      The Volga flood-lands across the
      river from the city of Samara
      males females males females
      Number of individuals observed 1 3 4 4
      Covered length of track (m) 7,840 7,771 13,740 16,500
      Field intensity 224 291 368 510
      Changing the
      feeding territory
      Number of individuals observed 1 4 1 3
      Covered length of track (m) 4,860 4,960 1,722 12,494
      Field intensity 134 177 190 347
      Table 5: Life tempo (movement activity) variations for the pine marten (Martes martes) expressed through the sign field
      intensity in areas with different degree of human impact on the environment. The tracking was done in the woods of the
      Volga flood-lands across the river from the city of Samara, Russia, in Krasnosamarskoye Forestry 100 km east of Samara, and
      in Bashkirsky Wildlife Reservation, in 1978-1985. (MOZGOVOY/ROSENBERG 1992).
      Evolution and Cognition ❘ 12 ❘ 2003, Vol. 9, No. 1
      Elina Vladimirova/John Mozgovoy
      The field parameters were processed using the
      one-way analysis of variance, the most effective statistical
      processing method. The results obtained are
      presented in Table 6.
      2. The Sign Field As a
      Sign System of a Mammal
      The sign field theory studies mammals living in the
      wild. For animals comprising a population or a coadapted
      complex of close species, which respond to
      environmental cues, the following statements are
      true: (1) their information exchange with environment
      increases the adaptability of their population
      or co-adapted complex; (2) animals involved in the
      sign process have individual and group memory, as
      well as genetically fixed memory; hence, the memory
      of past experience is always present in a sign, producing
      connotations. A sign is a reference to a certain
      situation in the past, which was significant and
      therefore got registered in the animal"s mind as a part
      of individual experience (either in the form of a
      movement response or in the form of a movement
      Mammals" behavior in their sign field is a process
      of "reading" unaddressed messages about external objects,
      events and habitat conditions. In the theory of
      a biological sign field the external objects to which
      mammals respond by movements are considered as
      environmental cues, or signs. "When animals have
      direct contacts with each other, it is quite difficult to
      discern in their communication separate signs such
      as a movement, a pose, a sound etc.; hence, it is impossible
      to divide the interaction "text" into elementary
      units. In case of indirect interaction through external
      objects and events which form a longregistered
      "textual message", the recipient of the message
      responds to each sign by a movement or a series
      of movements, which form some kind of behavior
      pattern. This pattern can be understood from studying
      the traces of the animal"s activity, and within it
      one can identify separate units-the "words" with
      which the animal answers to the "message"" (MOZGOVOY/
      ROSENBERG/VLADIMIROVA 1998, p17). It should
      be noted that the external objects themselves are not
      signs, but they are perceived as such by the animalrecipient.
      One of the founders of zoosemiotics, Charles
      MORRIS, wrote in his book Writings on the General the
      Theory of Signs, "Men are the dominant sign-using
      animals. Animals other than man do, of course, respond
      to certain things as signs of something else,
      but such signs do not attain the complexity and elaboration
      which is found in human speech, writing,
      Sign field parameter
      rate, %
      Weighted average
      (independent variables)
      χ1 χ2
      (on a 500 m
      section of track)
      (adult individuals)
      males females
      Magnitude (number of objects) - 18 19
      Anisotropy - 36 39
      Intensity 8.7 89 133
      (on a 500 m
      section of track)
      Age category
      adult young
      Magnitude (number of objects) 2.2* 18 20
      Anisotropy - 36 40
      Intensity 5.4 89 119
      Marten (on a
      section with 26
      different kinds
      of objects)
      Age category
      adult young
      Length of track covered by animal while
      it responded to 26 kinds of objects
      - 440 395
      Anisotropy - 83 82
      Intensity 2.0* 241 311
      Table 6: Sign field parameters and results obtained using one-way analysis of variance (MOZGOVOY/ROSENBERG 1992). All the
      animal were tracked during food-searching in the woods of the Volga flood-lands across the river from the city of Samara,
      Russia, in 1990.
      * The reliability rate for these values is estimated at 80% vs. 95% for other values in this column.
      Evolution and Cognition ❘ 13 ❘ 2003, Vol. 9, No. 1
      Sign Field Theory and Tracking Techniques Used in Studies of Small Carnivorous Mammals
      art, testing devices, medical diagnosis, and signaling
      instruments" (MORRIS 1971, p17). He went on, "The
      functioning of signs is, in general, a way in which
      certain existences take account of other existences
      through an intermediate class of existences" (MORRIS
      1971, p23). In his other work, Signification and Significance,
      MORRIS introduced the basic semiotic concepts
      as follows: "Semiosis (or sign process) is regarded
      as a five-term relation-v, w, x, y, z-in which
      v sets up in w the disposition to react in a certain
      kind of way, x, to a certain kind of object, y (not then
      acting as a stimulus), under certain conditions, z.
      The v"s, in the cases where this relation obtains, are
      signs, the w"s are interpreters, the x"s are interpretants,
      the y"s are significations, and the z"s are the contexts
      in which the signs occur" (MORRIS 1964, p2).
      Once he introduced the key semiotic terms, MORRIS
      noted that he did it "for present purposes" (MORRIS
      1964, p2). We fully support the semioticist when
      he wrote, "the formulation is not proposed as a definition
      of "sign", for there may be things we shall want
      to call signs that do not meet the requirements of
      this formulation-I prefer to leave this an open question.
      The formulation simply gives the conditions
      for recognizing certain events as signs" (MORRIS
      1964, p2).
      It may seem that Charles MORRIS understands the
      idea of animals" sign behavior somewhat differently
      than the authors of the theory of a mammalian biological
      sign field, but a closer look at the problem will
      demonstrate that the differences arise from the use
      of two different approaches to modelling sign phenomena,
      one being static, the other dynamic. What
      the static approach calls "disposition to react in a certain
      way" (MORRIS 1964,p2), the dynamic approach
      refers to as "elementary movement responses to external
      objects and events" (MOZGOVOY/ROSENBERG
      1992, p15) or "interpretants" (MORRIS 1964, p2).
      "Such a disposition can be interpreted in probabilistic
      terms, as the probability of reacting in a certain
      way under certain conditions because of the appearance
      of the sign. [...] Or, as we shall see later, it can be
      interpreted as an intervening variable, postulated for
      theoretical purposes, and controllable by indirect
      empirical evidence" (MORRIS 1964, p3).
      We are now going to define the concepts of "semiosis"
      and "sign" in such a way that, in our opinion,
      complies with our understanding of sign processes
      based on the theory of a biological sign field proposed
      analysis of these definitions helps better understand
      how the authors of the theory approach ecological
      and ethologic problems.
      Given that zoosemiotics was founded to address
      ecological issues, the following definition of semiosis
      appears to be the most appropriate: semiosis is an energy
      consuming process, an adaptation mechanism
      that enables interaction of an individual or a larger
      living system with the environment. With this approach
      to the definition of semiosis the concept of
      "sign" serves to demonstrate the relative character of
      linking the signifier primarily with the outer world
      and the signified-primarily with the inner world. In
      a specific research, this concept also helps consider
      the signifier and the signified as a unity, wherever
      possible. Semiosis is usually associated with energy
      consumption, and a "sign" is viewed as a model of
      semiosis which is primarily oriented towards the environment.
      The term Umwelt introduced by UEXKÜLL,
      which denotes "the semiotic world of a living organism"
      and incorporates "all aspects of the world that
      are meaningful to a particular organism" (KULL 1998,
      p302), is used in the model that highlights in semiosis
      the features of a translation process (KULL 1988,
      p300). This semiosis model stresses that "an individual"s
      ability to respond to environmental cues is limited"
      (DEWSBURY 1981, p21).
      The interpretation of a sign as "a model carrying
      the most common functional properties of a given
      object or phenomenon", rather than "a real object
      or phenomenon" (LEONTYEV 1967, p37), in our
      opinion, does not contradict the above definitions,
      since psychic mechanisms construct adaptive-for
      a given level of functioning-simulations of reality,
      including scientific ones. Those who separate "reality"
      from "reality simulation" deny the fact that any
      scientific discourse implies simulating reality by
      means of language. We believe that the above interpretation
      of a sign is characteristic of MORRIS" and
      UEXKÜLL" works; it is also shared by modern biosemioticists,
      the authors of the sign field theory and
      many other researchers.
      A. S. MELNICHUK wrote, "Solving researchers" disagreement
      [over the interpretation of the sign]
      comes down to solving one simple technical issue:
      which of the sign properties should we apply the
      term "meaning" to?"(MELNICHUK 1968, p43). The
      tracking technique based on the theory of a mammalian
      biological sign field primarily associates
      "meaning" with the field anisotropy. The authors of
      the theory agree with Claude LÉVI-STRAUSS who described
      meaning (signification) as "the operator of
      reorganization of the set being worked with" (LÉVISTRAUSS
      1999, p127, 129). The integrity of a "text" (a
      set of objects perceived by the animal) is determined
      by the animal"s biological motivation.
      Evolution and Cognition ❘ 14 ❘ 2003, Vol. 9, No. 1
      Elina Vladimirova/John Mozgovoy
      In zoosemiotics, as long as we distinguish between
      the notions of sign, semiosis, meaning, and
      value, semiosis can be described using parameters of
      a biological sign field: an individual"s set of signs
      ("vocabulary") can be associated with the field magnitude;
      the notion of field anisotropy allows us to see
      what a given "text" means to different individuals;
      field intensity can be used to measure the difference
      in the value of a given "text" for different individuals.
      Correlating the notions of the sign field theory
      with linguistic notions has nothing to do with establishing
      contextual equivalence of notions by
      means of, say, the commutation test; rather, the notions
      are linked to emphasize-the way it is done
      with the natural human language-various aspects
      of the animal sign system which is less differentiated.
      In the pragmatically oriented theory of a sign
      field, the field magnitude, intensity and anisotropy
      respectively characterize the form, value and meaning
      of information (in other words, they function as
      "syntactic", "pragmatic" and "semantic" components
      1999, p115). Once again, we should point
      out that these associations are made with the only
      purpose of stressing important aspects in the process
      of studying mammalian semiosis in its integrity.
      I. F. VARDUL wrote, "In the information theory
      any amount of information is studied irrespective of
      its content. In linguistics (on a larger scale-in semiotics),
      the content of information is studied irrespective
      of its amount" (VARDUL 1967, p9). In our
      opinion, the sign field method is a tool which allows
      a researcher to analyse both the amount and
      content of information presented as a succession of
      Thus, in Zoosemiotics, the following definitions
      of the "sign" are possible:
      B a sign is something which, in some respect or capacity,
      stands for something to a motivated individual
      with some experience of interacting with the
      B a sign is a thing referring its user to some other
      B a sign is a thing associated with something that
      differs from the form being interpreted;
      B a sign is a thing which provokes a movement response
      in the addressee when the signified correlates
      with the addressee"s prevailing motivation;
      B a sign is a transition from the perceived form (the
      signifier) to some contents (the signified) determined
      by its user"s individual experience or the experience
      of the user"s species;
      B a sign is a thing that is likely to provoke in its user
      some kind of action related to the user"s major motivation
      (intention)-the likelihood of this action
      should be less than 100%, otherwise we will be dealing
      with cause-and-effect rather than sign interaction.
      In the sign field theory, an elementary movement
      act (a drive) is a unit within behavioral continuum,
      which is determined by correlating the signified with
      the signifier. There is still a chance that either the
      plane of expression or the plane of contents will be
      divided into units which have no correlation in their
      other plane, but such division of a continuous process
      of an animal"s movement would be incorrect.
      For an animal the signified is a reminiscence of its
      previous experience and a reflection of what it seeks.
      The problem of correlating signs of a biological
      field parallels a similar problem in linguistics. "The
      reduction of infinite variety of sign manifestations
      to a finite number of variants is based on Karl
      BÜHLER"s principle of abstract relevance (BÜHLER
      2000, p34), which states that of all the only relevant
      substantial abstract characteristics of a sign are the
      ones that have a semasiological function and-
      given that we speak of a sign system-can be determined
      by system oppositions" (T. V. BULYGINA 1967,
      C. S. PIERCE writes about humans, "A sign, or representamen,
      is something which stands to somebody
      for something in some respect or capacity. It
      addresses somebody, that is, creates in the mind of
      that person an equivalent sign, or perhaps a more
      developed sign. That sign which it creates I call the
      interpretant of the first sign. The sign stands for
      something, its object. It stands for that object, not
      in all respects, but in reference to a sort of idea,
      which I have sometimes called the ground of the
      representamen". (PEIRCE 2000, p48). This definition
      seems suitable for a metalinguistic description of
      animal sign systems in studying mammalian sign
      Since objects and phenomena of the outer world
      may or may not meet the expectations of motivated
      animals, sign interaction between individuals and
      their environment can be viewed as a structured system
      of meanings, and the scientific discourse including
      the description of this interaction by a researcher
      can be viewed as a social phenomenon
      which depends on changes in its own structure.
      For ecological purposes it is better to study semiosis
      from the perspective of the animal that receives
      information than from the perspective of the animal
      that sends a message and waits for response.
      Evolution and Cognition ❘ 15 ❘ 2003, Vol. 9, No. 1
      Sign Field Theory and Tracking Techniques Used in Studies of Small Carnivorous Mammals
      One reason why studying sign systems from a recipient"s
      perspective is more relevant for ecological
      research is that signs are always vital for individual
      animals as environmental cues catching animals"
      attention. The closeness of attention may vary. On
      the one hand, the recipient is motivated to look for
      particular signs, relying on its individual and species
      experience; on the other hand, the sign is generated
      by the recipient"s environment when environment
      matches the recipient"s intentions and
      perception apparatus.
      Which environmental cues attract individuals attention
      and affect their adaptive behavior? How can
      we determine the roles of the environment and the
      individual"s functional condition in semiosis? To a
      researcher studying semiotics from the recipient"s
      prospective, anything may look as a sign. Gestalt
      psychologists discerned figures and their background
      in the process of visual perception: figures,
      in their opinion, differ from their background in
      that they are rich in details and have a clear-cut
      structure. Since the actual semiosis has always a
      smaller scale than the potential one, in the real environment
      of an individual there are always objects
      and events that are not registered it its subjective
      (inner) world. The environment influence on an individual
      goes beyond its perceptive power. Since observation
      is the only way to "penetrate" animals" inner
      world, to obtain reliable and comparable
      objective results we should only register those environmental
      objects which provoke movement responses
      in animals.
      Thus, the studies of semiosis based on the theory
      of a mammalian sign field mostly focus studying
      the process from the recipient"s perspective. This approach
      is not shared by all semioticists. In general
      semiotics and, particularly, in zoosemiotics there
      are supporters of approaching the process from the
      sender"s prospective. Indeed, animals often give a
      signal and wait for a response. We admit that, in
      studying ecology on the level of individuals, this approach
      may prove to be more productive than the
      one taken by the authors of the sign field theory-it
      all depends on the researcher"s goals. Anyhow, the
      authors of the mammalian sign field theory admit
      the importance of studying the evolutional experience
      of various mammal species. The approach
      taken by their opponents is especially important in
      dealing with animals" intentional communication
      through signs.
      The concepts of the theory bear a lot of resemblance
      to neo-behaviorists" ideas; the main difference
      being that the sign field theory created to solve
      specific ecological problems, studies both individuals
      and groups. Besides, unlike neo-behaviorist suppositions,
      the theory of a mammalian sign field
      deals with the whole "text", rather than separate
      stimuli. Semiotic studies centred around the sender
      of a sign message mainly focus on the sign function
      which by Karl BÜHLER called a "symptom" (BÜHLER
      2000, pp34-38). In Table 7 three different sign functions
      are compared for humans and other mammals.
      Those are the three functions identified by
      BÜHLER-symptomatic, symbolic and signalling; all
      Communication of mammals of the
      same or close species in the wild
      Human language
      Sign function (BÜHLER"s classification)
      Symptom Characterizes the functional condition of
      the interaction process initiator (the message
      sender). Manifests itself in the
      sender"s elementary movements.
      Mainly characterizes the sender extralinguistically. May indicate
      the significance of the chosen information context for the
      sender, the sender"s functional condition, ideology, the social
      censorship effects. In a number of cases may also indicate the
      sender"s association with a particular social group or his/her
      marginal position, the sender"s desire to win the addressee"s
      empathy, his/her knowledge of the language code (vocabulary,
      dialect, preferable discourse etc.)
      Symbol Characterizes correlation between the
      animal"s motives and environmental
      Correlates with the things and situations mentioned in the
      Signal Controls the behavior and inner state of
      the second participant in communication
      process (the information recipient).
      Provokes a movement in response to the
      perception of a sign.
      Links the subject of discourse and the situation in which communication
      takes place with the recipient"s position. In case
      where the message makes sense to the recipient, the signal
      influences the recipient"s behavior.
      Table 7: Humans" vs. animals" sign functions.
      Evolution and Cognition ❘ 16 ❘ 2003, Vol. 9, No. 1
      Elina Vladimirova/John Mozgovoy
      of them are taken into account in the theory of a biological
      sign field.
      Using sign field technique in the studies of mammals"
      communication allows us to describe two main
      operations used in the process of information exchange-
      selection and combination. Thus, once the
      number of signs of a certain kind, encountered by an
      individual, exceeds a certain limit, this causes a
      change in the individual"s activity. The structure of a
      mammalian sign field parallels the structure of a text
      with its two aspects-paradigmatic
      and syntagmatic; in the
      sign field these two aspects
      correlate with the effect of selfstimulating
      behavior (when a
      certain type of behavior persists
      in spite of fulfilment of
      the physical need that caused
      it) and with "the shift in the
      predominant behavior type"
      accompanied by the appearance
      of a "minor activity" in line with the time division
      1998, p7).
      Animals communicate with each other through
      their behavior both when they have direct contacts
      with each other, and when their adaptive behavior
      makes changes to their environment. With solitary
      animals, the main zoosemiotic problem is describing
      the structure of a non-intentional, unaddressed message
      "recorded" in environmental objects and events
      and organised as a "text"
      which an animal "reads" as it
      moves around. The message is
      actualised as the animal
      moves in its own or group
      sign field. The researcher"s
      task is to structure his or her
      process of reading sign messages
      so that it is very similar
      to the animal"s process of receiving
      the messages.
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      Elina Vladimirova, John Mozgovoy, Department
      of Zoology, Genetics and General Ecology,
      Samara State University, Acad. Pavlov
      Street 3, 443011 Samara, Russia.
      Phone: +7 (846-2) 345444, Fax: +7 (846-2)
      363495 Email: elvlad@newmail.ru,
      Authors" address
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