The acoustic signature of the male northern elephant seal: Individual variation supports recognition during competitive interactions

Abstract : Northern elephant seals ( Mirounga angustirostris ) have a polygynous breeding system in which adult males establish dominance hierarchies that determine access to females. Acoustic signaling plays an important role in settling fights between males, as stereotyped displays elicit appropriate behavioral responses from individuals without contact during an energetically demanding breeding season. To determine whether reliable differences exist in the acoustic displays of individuals and whether these differences function to convey identity, we behaviorally and acoustically sampled male seals during the breeding season. Vocalizations were recorded during competitive interactions and analyzed for spectral, temporal, and amplitude characteristics. A cross-validated discriminant function analysis revealed small differences within—and significant differences between—the calls produced by 17 adult males of known dominance status. To determine whether acoustic displays serve as individual signatures that males learn to recognize during the breeding season, we conducted playback experiments to test if having prior experience with a particular caller would influence the approach or avoidance response of the listener. Our findings reveal that these unique acoustic signals serve as individual vocal signatures, and males likely remember the identity of their rivals based on call features that have been associated with the outcome of previous competitive interactions.
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Submitted on : Thursday, August 1, 2019 - 4:49:53 PM
Last modification on : Wednesday, August 7, 2019 - 12:18:48 PM

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Caroline Casey, Colleen Reichmuth, Selene Fregosi, Isabelle Charrier, Nicolas Mathevon. The acoustic signature of the male northern elephant seal: Individual variation supports recognition during competitive interactions. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, Acoustical Society of America, 2013, 134 (5), pp.3988-3988. ⟨10.1121/1.4830540⟩. ⟨hal-02241782⟩

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