Research Summary: Context-Related Acoustic Variation in Male Fallow Deer (Dama dama) Groans


While social and behavioural contexts are known to affect the acoustic structure of vocal signals in several mammal species, few studies have investigated context-related acoustic variation during inter-sexual advertisement and/or intra-sexual competition. Here we recorded male fallow deer groans during the breeding season and investigated how key acoustic parameters (fundamental frequency and formant frequencies) vary as a function of the social context in which they are produced. We found that in the presence of females, male fallow deer produced groans with higher mean fundamental frequency when vocal males were also present than they did when no vocal males were in close vicinity. We attribute this to the increased arousal state typically associated with this context. In addition, groan minimum formant frequency spacing was slightly, but significantly lower (indicating marginally more extended vocal tracts) when males were alone than when potential mates and/or competitors were nearby. This indicates that, contrary to our predictions, male fallow deer do not exaggerate the acoustic impression of their body size by further lowering their formant frequencies in the presence of potential mating partners and competitors. Furthermore, since the magnitude of the variation in groan minimum formant frequency spacing remains small compared to documented inter-individual differences, our findings are consistent with the hypothesis that formants are reliable static cues to body size during intra- and inter-sexual advertisement that do not concurrently encode dynamic motivation-related information.


Publisher: Public Library of Science

Date Published: 13-June-2011

Author(s): Charlton B., Reby D.


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