Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 193, Issue 4, pp 477–483

Tracking silence: adjusting vocal production to avoid acoustic interference

  • S. E. Roian Egnor
  • Jeanette Graham Wickelgren
  • Marc D. Hauser
Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s00359-006-0205-7

Cite this article as:
Egnor, S.E.R., Wickelgren, J.G. & Hauser, M.D. J Comp Physiol A (2007) 193: 477. doi:10.1007/s00359-006-0205-7


Organisms that use vocal signals to communicate often modulate their vocalizations to avoid being masked by other sounds in the environment. Although some environmental noise is continuous, both biotic and abiotic noise can be intermittent, or even periodic. Interference from intermittent noise can be avoided if calls are timed to coincide with periods of silence, a capacity that is unambiguously present in insects, amphibians, birds, and humans. Surprisingly, we know virtually nothing about this fundamental capacity in nonhuman primates. Here we show that a New World monkey, the cotton-top tamarin (Saguinus oedipus), can restrict calls to periodic silent intervals in loud white noise. In addition, calls produced during these silent intervals were significantly louder than calls recorded in silent baseline sessions. Finally, average call duration dropped across sessions, indicating that experience with temporally patterned noise caused tamarins to compress their calls. Taken together, these results show that in the presence of a predictable, intermittent environmental noise, cotton-top tamarins are able to modify the duration, timing, and amplitude of their calls to avoid acoustic interference.


Vocal controlAuditory maskingAcoustic communicationCall timing





Sound pressure level


Combination long call

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. E. Roian Egnor
    • 1
  • Jeanette Graham Wickelgren
    • 1
  • Marc D. Hauser
    • 1
  1. 1.Harvard UniversityCambridgeUSA