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


Hollén, L I; Manser, M B (2007). Motivation before meaning: motivational information encoded in meerkat alarm calls develops earlier than referential information. American Naturalist, 169(6):758-767.

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.

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.

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25 citations in Web of Science®
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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies
Dewey Decimal Classification:570 Life sciences; biology
590 Animals (Zoology)
Uncontrolled Keywords:animal communication, motivational signals, referentiality, call development, alarm calls, meerkats
Language:English
Date:1 June 2007
Deposited On:11 Feb 2008 12:14
Last Modified:05 Apr 2016 12:13
Publisher:University of Chicago Press
ISSN:0003-0147
Additional Information:©2007 by American Naturalist
Publisher DOI:10.1086/516719
PubMed ID:17479462
Permanent URL: http://doi.org/10.5167/uzh-386

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