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Acoustic Communication and Sound Degradation: How Do the Individual Signatures of Male and Female Zebra Finch Calls Transmit over Distance?



Assessing the active space of the various types of information encoded by songbirds' vocalizations is important to address questions related to species ecology (e.g. spacing of individuals), as well as social behavior (e.g. territorial and/or mating strategies). Up to now, most of the previous studies have investigated the degradation of species-specific related information (species identity), and there is a gap of knowledge of how finer-grained information (e.g. individual identity) can transmit through the environment. Here we studied how the individual signature coded in the zebra finch long distance contact call degrades with propagation.


We performed sound transmission experiments of zebra finches' distance calls at various propagation distances. The propagated calls were analyzed using discriminant function analyses on a set of analytical parameters describing separately the spectral and temporal envelopes, as well as on a complete spectrographic representation of the signals.


We found that individual signature is remarkably resistant to propagation as caller identity can be recovered even at distances greater than a hundred meters. Male calls show stronger discriminability at long distances than female calls, and this difference can be explained by the more pronounced frequency modulation found in their calls. In both sexes, individual information is carried redundantly using multiple acoustical features. Interestingly, features providing the highest discrimination at short distances are not the same ones that provide the highest discrimination at long distances.

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