Animals adapt vocal signals to social situations

August 26th, 2008 - 5:43 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Aug 26 (IANS) Animals can tailor their calls, chirps, barks and whistles to their social situation, according to a host of psyhological studies. For example, male gray treefrogs give out longer but fewer calls in reaction to the calls of other males. In other words, when these frogs are chorusing full blast, a male seeking female attention will change the rhythm of his call to break out of the chorus.

Using an array of microphones to identify individual callers among wild bottlenose dolphins, scientists found that although dolphins whistle more in social situations, individuals decrease their vocal output in large groups, when their whistles are more likely to be drowned out.

Nestling tree swallows adjust their call output to parents when there’s more noisy competition from the brood.

Carolina chickadees in larger social groups use calls with greater information than do individuals in smaller groups, and female-male interactions in opposite-sex chickadee pairs reflect the rate of male production of that distinctive chick-a-dee call.

Review articles assess the evidence to date and outline future directions. For example, Peter Tyack, a biologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, concluded that “pooling data on vocal imitation, vocal convergence and compensation for noise suggests a wider [cross-species] distribution of vocal production learning among mammals than has been generally appreciated.”

It could mean that mammals have more of the neural underpinnings for learning to vocalise than has been previously thought.

A special August issue of the Journal of Comparative Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association, features these findings.

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