Over time, African penguins modify their calls to sound more similar to their mates and colony mates, revealing a form of vocal learning known only to a few animals
July 13, 2022
Over time, some penguins change their calls to be more similar to their mates and colonies, an ability previously only found in a few species, including humans.
Luigi Barciadona The University of Turin in Italy and his colleagues documented African penguins (butterfly) From three different colonies over three years, one colony’s behavioral patterns were also observed to see which penguins were buddy or friendly.
They then analyzed the specific sounds the penguins made when they were quarantined or trying to track down friends. They compared four different audio features that represent features such as the frequency and amplitude of a call. Over time, the signatures of partners or penguins in the same colony became more similar, as well as the signatures of penguins that heard more of each other’s calls.
This adaptation can make it easier for penguins to find their mates and friends in the colony. “Imagine you’re in a bar, you’re with your friends, and your ambient noise is really super loud,” Baciadonna said. “All you have to do is try to start the conversation in a certain way so your communication will be more effective.”
The ability to modify the call based on the environment, known as sound adjustment, is a key part of vocal learning and is a more complex set of skills, such as generating new sounds through learning or imitation. Identifying which species exhibit vocal modulation could provide clues to how vocal learning evolved.
Baciadonna and his team also proposed that this adaptation could help enhance group cohesion and social bonds between individual penguins.
“This result is very interesting because you’ll find that these intermediate pieces solve the puzzle of how vocal learning evolved and what selection pressures might be involved,” said Sarah Torres Ortiz at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Germany.
The distance between penguins and humans on the evolutionary tree suggests that vocal modulation may be common to many species, but more data needs to be collected first. “There may be a variety of different species that slightly alter their vocalizations and have the ability to modulate this sound, but we don’t know that yet,” Ortiz added.
Journal references: Proceedings of the Royal Society B, DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2022.0626
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