Remarkable vocal identity in wild-living mother and neonate saiga antelopes: a specialization for breeding in huge aggregations?
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Saiga antelopes Saiga tatarica tatarica give birth in large aggregations, and offspring follow the herd soon after birth. Herding is advantageous as anti-predator strategy; however, communication between mothers and neonates is strongly complicated in large aggregations. Individual series of nasal and oral contact calls of mother and neonate saiga antelopes were selected from recordings made with automated recording systems placed near the hiding neonates on the saiga breeding grounds in Northern Kazakhstan during synchronized parturitions of 30,000 calving females. We used for comparison of the acoustic structure of nasal and oral contact calls 168 nasal calls of 18 mothers, 192 oral calls of 21 mothers, 78 nasal calls of 16 neonates, and 197 oral calls of 22 neonates. In the oral calls of either mothers or neonates, formant frequencies were higher and the duration was longer than in the nasal calls, whereas fundamental frequencies did not differ between oral and nasal calls. Discriminant function analysis (DFA) based on six acoustic variables, accurately classified individual identity for 99.4% of oral calls of 18 mothers, for 89.3% of nasal calls of 18 mothers, and for 94.4% of oral calls of 18 neonates. The average value of correct classification to individual was higher in mother oral than in mother nasal calls and in mother oral calls than in neonate oral calls; no significant difference was observed between mother nasal and neonate oral calls. Variables mainly responsible for vocal identity were the fundamental frequency and the second and third formants in either mothers or neonates, and in either nasal or oral calls. The high vocal identity of mothers and neonates suggests a powerful potential for the mutual mother-offspring recognition in dense aggregations of saiga antelopes as an important component of their survival strategy.
KeywordsMother-offspring communication Vocal identity Maternal care in herds Offspring survival
We thank Natalia Soldatova and the staff of the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan for their advice and support. We thank the two anonymous reviewers for their valuable suggestions how to improve the manuscript.
Compliance with ethical standards
All applicable international, national, and institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. All audio recordings and weighing of animals were conducted in tight cooperation with authorized bodies of Kazakhstan (Association for the Conservation of the Biodiversity of Kazakhstan) during the species censuses and conservation measures. During our work, we strictly adhered to the special welfare instructions developed by the authorized bodies for work with saigas. The data collection protocol # 2011-36 was approved by the Committee of Bio-ethics of Lomonosov Moscow State University.
Conflicts of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
Informed consent was not required.
The study was supported by the Russian Foundation for Basic Research, grants 15-04-06241 (for IAV and EVV) and 16-34-01230 (for OVS).
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