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Dwarf mongoose alarm calls: investigating a complex non-human animal call


Collier, Katie; Radford, Andrew N; Stoll, Sabine; Watson, Stuart K; Manser, Marta B; Bickel, Balthasar; Townsend, Simon W (2020). Dwarf mongoose alarm calls: investigating a complex non-human animal call. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B: Biological Sciences, 287(1935):20192514.

Abstract

Communication plays a vital role in the social lives of many species and varies greatly in complexity. One possible way to increase communicative complexity is by combining signals into longer sequences, which has been proposed as a mechanism allowing species with a limited repertoire to increase their communicative output. In mammals, most studies on combinatoriality have focused on vocal communication in non-human primates. Here, we investigated a potential combination of alarm calls in the dwarf mongoose (
<jats:italic>Helogale parvula</jats:italic>
), a non-primate mammal. Acoustic analyses and playback experiments with a wild population suggest: (i) that dwarf mongooses produce a complex call type (T
<jats:sub>3</jats:sub>
) which, at least at the surface level, seems to comprise units that are not functionally different to two meaningful alarm calls (aerial and terrestrial); and (ii) that this T
<jats:sub>3</jats:sub>
call functions as a general alarm, produced in response to a wide range of threats. Using a novel approach, we further explored multiple interpretations of the T
<jats:sub>3</jats:sub>
call based on the information content of the apparent comprising calls and how they are combined. We also considered an alternative, non-combinatorial interpretation that frames T
<jats:sub>3</jats:sub>
as the origin, rather than the product, of the individual alarm calls. This study complements previous knowledge of vocal combinatoriality in non-primate mammals and introduces an approach that could facilitate comparisons between different animal and human communication systems.

Abstract

Communication plays a vital role in the social lives of many species and varies greatly in complexity. One possible way to increase communicative complexity is by combining signals into longer sequences, which has been proposed as a mechanism allowing species with a limited repertoire to increase their communicative output. In mammals, most studies on combinatoriality have focused on vocal communication in non-human primates. Here, we investigated a potential combination of alarm calls in the dwarf mongoose (
<jats:italic>Helogale parvula</jats:italic>
), a non-primate mammal. Acoustic analyses and playback experiments with a wild population suggest: (i) that dwarf mongooses produce a complex call type (T
<jats:sub>3</jats:sub>
) which, at least at the surface level, seems to comprise units that are not functionally different to two meaningful alarm calls (aerial and terrestrial); and (ii) that this T
<jats:sub>3</jats:sub>
call functions as a general alarm, produced in response to a wide range of threats. Using a novel approach, we further explored multiple interpretations of the T
<jats:sub>3</jats:sub>
call based on the information content of the apparent comprising calls and how they are combined. We also considered an alternative, non-combinatorial interpretation that frames T
<jats:sub>3</jats:sub>
as the origin, rather than the product, of the individual alarm calls. This study complements previous knowledge of vocal combinatoriality in non-primate mammals and introduces an approach that could facilitate comparisons between different animal and human communication systems.

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Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Department of Comparative Linguistics
07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies
Dewey Decimal Classification:490 Other languages
890 Other literatures
410 Linguistics
Scopus Subject Areas:Life Sciences > General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
Life Sciences > General Immunology and Microbiology
Physical Sciences > General Environmental Science
Life Sciences > General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
Uncontrolled Keywords:General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology, General Immunology and Microbiology, General Agricultural and Biological Sciences, General Environmental Science, General Medicine
Language:English
Date:30 September 2020
Deposited On:16 Oct 2020 14:47
Last Modified:01 Nov 2020 17:13
Publisher:Royal Society Publishing
ISSN:0962-8452
OA Status:Green
Free access at:PubMed ID. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2019.2514
PubMed ID:32962548

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