Animals able to learn sounds have higher-pitched calls, study finds

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Dolphins and other mammals capable of learning sounds can make higher-pitched calls, according to a new study. File photo by Neirfy / Shutterstock

November 16 (UPI) – Animals capable of learning sounds tend to produce calls at higher frequencies, according to a study published Tuesday by the Philosophical Transactions journal of the Royal Society B Biological Sciences.

Understanding these trends can help scientists better identify mammals capable of what’s called vocal learning, the researchers said.

According to the researchers, it could also help efforts to interpret the meaning of sounds made by animals.

In their analysis of vocal trends among several species, they noted that the manatee, or sea cow, produces louder calls than one would expect given its size, they said.

This may mean that the manatee, which to date has not been considered an animal capable of vocal learning, may have hidden vocal talents, the researchers said.

Likewise, non-singers that sound lower than expected, like the fur seal Juan Fernandez, may turn out to have developed specific anatomical adaptations to avoid predators, the researchers say.

“We are not claiming that all species of vocal learners sound higher than expected for their body size,” co-author Maxime Garcia said in a press release.

However, “there is a general trend, and it may help us better characterize vocal communication in mammals,” said Garcia, a post-doctoral researcher in evolutionary biology at the University of Zurich in Switzerland.

According to Garcia and his colleagues, some animals – red deer, for example – sound “bigger” than they actually are, which means they produce lower calls than you might expect. based on their body size, according to Garcia and colleagues.

Biologists believe that this “imitation” of body size could be a strategy to impress the opposite sex for mating purposes or to deceive and intimidate potential predecessors.

In a study published last year, Garcia and his colleague Andrea Ravignani, head of a comparative bioacoustics research group at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Germany, observed that animals that can simulate their size using their calls have also tend to be good at learning sounds.

For this study, they expanded their previous analyzes of a wide range of mammals, including various breeds of bats, dolphins, porpoises, seals and whales.

Contrary to expectations, most voice learners, such as dolphins, whales and seals, sounded higher than one would expect based on their body size, not lower, the researchers said.

This suggests that animals that learn voice well generally make higher pitched sounds, they said.

Vocal learners who sounded lower than expected often had anatomical adaptations that could account for the low voice, such as a longer nose, the researchers said.

“There could be an alternate evolutionary scenario among vocal learners, where selective pressures favor individuals who can change their tone of voice from low to high,” Ravignani said in a press release.


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