• Coevolution of vocal signal characteristics and hearing sensitivity in forest mammals

      Charlton, Benjamin D.; Owen, Megan A.; Swaisgood, Ronald R. (2019)
      Although signal characteristics and sensory systems are predicted to co-evolve according to environmental constraints, this hypothesis has not been tested for acoustic signalling across a wide range of species, or any mammal sensory modality. Here we use phylogenetic comparative techniques to show that mammal vocal characteristics and hearing sensitivity have co-evolved to utilise higher frequencies in forest environments – opposite to the general prediction that lower frequencies should be favoured in acoustically cluttered habitats. We also reveal an evolutionary trade-off between high frequency hearing sensitivity and the production of calls with high frequency acoustic energy that suggests forest mammals further optimise vocal communication according to their high frequency hearing sensitivity. Our results provide clear evidence of adaptive signal and sensory system coevolution. They also emphasize how constraints imposed by the signalling environment can jointly shape vocal signal structure and auditory systems, potentially driving acoustic diversity and reproductive isolation.
    • Influence of season and social context on male giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) vocal behaviour

      Charlton, Benjamin D.; Owen, Megan A.; Zhou, Xiaoping; Zhang, Hemin; Swaisgood, Ronald R. (2019)
      Documenting the different social and behavioural contexts that vocalisations are produced in remains an important step towards understanding the functional relevance of specific call types in a given species’ vocal repertoire. In this study we investigated whether seasonal differences and the presence or absence of male and female conspecifics influence the production of male giant panda vocal signals. To this end, captive male giant pandas were observed during and outside of the breeding season in three social contexts: only male conspecific neighbours, only female conspecific neighbours, and a context with no neighbours. We found that males were more likely to bleat, chirp, honk and moan during the breeding season, and showed a tendency to growl more outside of the reproductive period. The contextual analysis revealed that bleats were more likely to be produced by males when opposite-sexed conspecifics are in close attendance during the breeding season. Conversely, males were more likely to chirp when neighboured by males than females or no neighbours. In addition, males were more likely to honk in the absence of neighbouring conspecifics during the breeding season, raising the possibility that these calls function to signal location and gain the attention of potential mates. Moans were produced more often when male giant pandas had male than female neighbours during the breeding season, which may reflect mild aggression towards these same-sexed rivals, whereas the production of barks and growls did not vary according to season or the sex of conspecific neighbours. Our findings underscore the importance of male giant panda bleats for coordinating reproduction and promoting contact with potential mating partners in this non-gregarious species, and yield fresh insights into the function of male honks that warrant further investigation. They also provide a basis for comparison with free-ranging giant panda vocal behaviour that could potentially inform conservation efforts.