Allometric escape and acoustic signal features facilitate high-frequency communication in an endemic Chinese primate

Abstract

The principle of acoustic allometry—the larger the animal, the lower its calls' fundamental frequency—is generally observed across terrestrial mammals. Moreover, according to the Acoustic Adaptation Hypothesis, open habitats favor the propagation of high-frequency calls compared to habitats with complex vegetational structures. We carried out playback experiments in which the calls of the Guizhou snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus brelichi) were used as stimuli in sound attenuation and degradation experiments to test the hypothesis that propagation of Guizhou snub-nosed monkey calls is favored above vs through the forest floor vegetation. We found that low-pitched Guizhou snub-nosed monkey vocalizations suffered less attenuation than its high-pitched calls. Guizhou snub-nosed monkeys were observed emitting high-pitched calls from 1.5 to 5.0 m above the ground. The use of high-pitched calls from these heights coupled with the concomitant behavior of moving about above the understory may provide a signal for receivers which maximizes potential transmission and efficacy. Our results support the Acoustic Adaptation Hypothesis and suggest that by uncoupling its vocal output from its size, this monkey can produce a high-pitched call with a broad spectral bandwidth, thereby increasing both its saliency and the frequency range over which the animal may more effectively communicate in its natural habitat.

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Abbreviations

HPC:

High-pitched call

RMS:

Root mean square

SPL:

Sound pressure level

GLMM:

Generalized Linear Mixed Model

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Acknowledgements

We thank the Fanjingshan National Nature Reserve Administration for permission to carry out this study. Field assistants J. Li, X. Dong and Y. Feng helped with the experiments while H. Wang and J. Chen provided critical support for the vocal data collection. We thank A. Cobo-Cuan for help with producing Fig. 1, O. Friard for assistance with the cross-correlation calculations, and S. Castellano, M.J. Ryan and W. Halfwerk for helpful discussions of the analysis of the attenuation experiments. We would like to thank two anonymous reviewers for their suggestions and comments. Supported by grants from the Margot Marsh Biodiversity Foundation and the Offield Family Foundation to C.L.T., the Fanjingshan National Nature Reserve Project of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Funding (Guizhou), and a Senior Scientist Research Fellowship from the U. Torino International Program to P.M.N. I.R., M.G., C.L.T., K.N. and C.G. carried out the field work and contributed to the design and data collection for this study. Y.Y. facilitated the study by obtaining proper authorizations from the Guizhou Forestry Dept., I.R., M.G., C.G. and P.M.N. drafted the manuscript, and all authors revised it for accuracy and content. All procedures were performed in agreement with the regulations of the Fanjingshan National Nature Reserve Administration. All authors agreed to be held accountable for the content and approved the final version of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Marco Gamba.

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Riondato, I., Gamba, M., Tan, C.L. et al. Allometric escape and acoustic signal features facilitate high-frequency communication in an endemic Chinese primate. J Comp Physiol A (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00359-021-01465-7

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Keywords

  • Acoustic adaptation hypothesis
  • Principle of acoustic allometry
  • Rhinopithecus brelichi
  • Snub-nosed monkey
  • Sound propagation