• Social context mediates testosterone's effect on snort acoustics in male hyrax songs

      Weissman, Yishai A.; Demartsev, Vlad; Ilany, Amiyaal; Barocas, Adi; Bar-Ziv, Einat; Geffen, Eli; Koren, Lee (2019)
      Testosterone affects physical and motivational states, both of which may strongly influence vocalization structure and acoustics. The loud complex calls (i.e., songs) of male rock hyraxes (Procavia capensis) are used as honest signals for advertising physical and social states. The snort, a low frequency, noisy element of the song, encodes information on the singer's age and social rank via harshness, as measured by jitter (i.e., acoustic frequency stability) and duration; suggesting that the snort concomitantly advertises both vocal stability and aggression. Our past findings revealed that testosterone levels are related to both vocal elements and social status of male hyraxes, suggesting that hormonal mechanisms mediate the motivation for aggressive and courtship behaviors. Here we examined whether long-term androgen levels are related to snort acoustics and song structure by comparing levels of testosterone in hair with acoustic and structural parameters. We found that songs performed by individuals with higher testosterone levels include more singing bouts and longer, smoother snorts, but only in those songs induced by external triggers. It is possible that hyraxes with higher levels of testosterone possess the ability to perform higher-quality singing, but only invest in situations of high social arousal and potential benefit. Surprisingly, in spontaneous songs, hyraxes with high testosterone were found to snort more harshly than low-testosterone males. The context dependent effects of high testosterone on snort acoustics suggest that the aggressive emotional arousal associated with testosterone is naturally reflected in the jittery hyrax snort, but that it can be masked by high-quality performance.