Article

Motivation before meaning: motivational information encoded in meerkat alarm calls develops earlier than referential information.

Verhaltensbiologie, Zoologisches Institut, Universitat Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.
The American Naturalist (Impact Factor: 4.45). 07/2007; 169(6):758-67. DOI: 10.1086/516719
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT In contrast to historical assumptions about the affective nature of animal vocalizations, it is now clear that many vertebrates are capable of producing specific alarm calls in response to different predators, calls that provide information that goes beyond the motivational state of a caller. However, although these calls function referentially, it does not mean that they are devoid of motivational content. Studies on meerkats (Suricata suricatta) directly support this conclusion. The acoustic structure of their alarm calls simultaneously encodes information that is both motivational (level of urgency) and referential (predator specific). In this study, we investigated whether alarm calls of young meerkats undergo developmental modification and whether the motivational or the referential aspect of calls changes more over time. We found that, based on their acoustic structure, calls of young showed a high correct assignment to low- and high-urgency contexts but, in contrast to adults, low assignment to specific predator types. However, the discrimination among predator types was better in high-urgency than in low-urgency contexts. Our results suggest that acoustic features related to level of urgency are expressed earlier than those related to predator-specific information and may support the idea that referential calls evolve from motivational signals.

0 Followers
 · 
91 Views
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: A long-standing question in animal communication is whether signals reveal intrinsic properties of the signaller or extrinsic properties of its environment. Alarm calls, one of the most conspicuous components of antipredator behaviour, intuitively would appear to reflect internal states of the signaller. Pioneering research in primates and fowl, however, demonstrated that signallers may produce unique alarm calls during encounters with different types of predators, suggesting that signallers through selective production of alarm calls provide to conspecific receivers information about predators in the environment. In this article, we review evidence for such functional reference' in the alarm calls of birds based on explicit tests of two criteria proposed in Macedonia & Evans' (Ethology 93, 1993, 177) influential conceptual framework: (1) that unique alarm calls are given to specific predator categories, and (2) that alarm calls isolated from contextual information elicit antipredator responses from receivers similar to those produced during actual predator encounters. Despite the importance of research on birds in development of the conceptual framework and the ubiquity of alarm calls in birds, evidence for functionally referential alarm calls in this clade is limited to six species. In these species, alarm calls are associated with the type of predator encountered as well as variation in hunting behaviour; with defence of reproductive effort in addition to predators of adults; with age-related changes in predation risk; and with strong fitness benefits. Our review likely underestimates the occurrence of functional reference in avian alarm calls, as incomplete application and testing of the conceptual framework has limited our understanding. Throughout, therefore, we suggest avian taxa for future studies, as well as additional questions and experimental approaches that would strengthen our understanding of the meaning of functional reference in avian alarm calls.
    Ethology 06/2013; 119:449-461. DOI:10.1111/eth.12097 · 1.56 Impact Factor
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Elucidating the information content of vocal signals is fundamental to the understanding of animal communication. Acoustically distinct calls produced in specific contexts allow listeners to predict future events and choose adequate responses. However, the vocal repertoires of most terrestrial mammals consist of a limited number of call types that vary within and between categories. These "graded signaling systems" are thought to be rich in information, at the cost of increasing uncertainty regarding call categorization. In this study, patterns of acoustic variation in grunts of wild chacma baboons (Papio ursinus) were assessed in relation to different contexts, callers' arousal, the presence of listeners, and individual identity. Although overall production specificity was low, and sensitive to the number of contexts under consideration, grunts given in three contexts could be statistically distinguished from each other. Contextual differences remained when controlling for caller arousal, suggesting that these differences cannot be explained by variation in arousal. No audience effect was detected, but individual identity was found to have an influence on acoustic structure. Overall, these results support the view that, in comparison to other signaling systems associated with hazardous conditions, lower production specificity might evolve under relaxed circumstances where unambiguous signaling is less important.
    The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 03/2011; 129(3):1631-41. DOI:10.1121/1.3531944 · 1.56 Impact Factor
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: We examined the emergence of a critical component of sex, response to sexual signals-phonotaxis-in male and female túngara frogs (Physalaemus pustulosus). We determined the ontogenetic trajectories of phonotactic responses as animals developed from metamorphic froglets to reproductive adults. The results demonstrated that species-typical phonotaxis emerges quite early during postmetamorphic development, well before sexual maturity, suggesting that a developmentally early bias in the auditory system for species-typical signals might be a more general phenomenon than previously thought, and that the neural circuits responsible for processing and responding to conspecific advertisement signals in a species-typical manner might develop long before the coordinated behavior is demanded of the organism.
    Journal of Comparative Psychology 02/2010; 124(1):66-80. DOI:10.1037/a0017227 · 2.31 Impact Factor