Animal Cognition

, Volume 15, Issue 2, pp 265–270 | Cite as

Attention grabbing in red deer sexual calls

  • David RebyEmail author
  • Benjamin D. Charlton
Original Paper


Identifying the respective functions of distinct call types is an important step towards understanding the diversification of mammal vocal repertoires. Red deer (Cervus elaphus) stags give two distinct types of roars during the rut, termed ‘common roars’ and ‘harsh roars’. This study tests the hypothesis that harsh roars function to raise and maintain female attention to calling males. To this end, we examined the response of female red deer to playback sequences of common roar bouts including a bout of harsh roars midway through the sequence. We found that females not only substantially increased their attention to the bout of harsh roars but also then maintained overall higher attention levels to subsequent common roar bouts. Our results suggest that the specific acoustic characteristics of male red deer harsh roar bouts may have evolved to engage and maintain the attention of female receivers during the breeding season. More generally, they indicate a possible evolutionary path for the diversification of male sexual vocal repertoires.


Vocal communication Sexual communication Non-linear phenomena Red deer Vocalisation Deterministic chaos Dishabituation 



We thank INRA for granting access to the deer and Marcel Verdier and André Guitard for their help during the experiments at Redon Experimental Farm. We thank Christian Wilson for help with the preparation of the stimuli, and Karen McComb for the provision of recordings used in the playback experiments. We also thank Karen McComb, Megan Wyman and three anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on the manuscript. This research was supported by a Nuffield grant to DR. BC was supported by a BBSRC studentship, and a European Research Council Advanced Grant SOMACCA (No. 230604) awarded to W. Tecumseh Fitch.

Supplementary material

10071_2011_451_MOESM1_ESM.eps (1.7 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (EPS 1722 kb)


  1. Belin P, Fecteau S, Charest I, Nicastro N, Hauser M, Armony J (2008) Human cerebral response to animal affective vocalizations. Proc R Soc B Biol Sci 275:473–481CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Blumstein DT (1999) The evolution of functionally referential alarm communication: multiple adaptations; multiple constraints. Evol Commun 3:135–147CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Blumstein DT, Récapet C (2009) The sound of arousal: the addition of novel non-linearities increases responsiveness in marmot alarm calls. Ethology 115:1074–1081CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Blumstein DT, Richardson DT, Cooley L (2008) The structure, meaning and function of yellow-bellied marmot pup screams. Anim Behav 76:1055–1064CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Briefer E, Vannoni E, McElligott AG (2010) Quality prevails over identity in the sexually selected vocalisations of an ageing mammal. BMC Biol 8:35PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bugnyar T, Kijne M, Kotrschal K (2001) Food calling in ravens: are yells referential signals? Anim Behav 61:949–958CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Catchpole CK, Slater PJB (1995) Bird song: biological themes and variations. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  8. Charlton BD, Reby D, McComb K (2007a) Female red deer prefer the roars of larger males. Biol Lett 3:382–385PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Charlton BD, Reby D, McComb K (2007b) Female perception of size-related formants in red deer, Cervus elaphus. Anim Behav 74:707–714CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Charlton BD, Reby D, McComb K (2008) Effect of combined source (F0) and filter (formant) variation on red deer hind responses to male roars. J Acoust Soc Am 123:2936–2943PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Charlton BD, Zhihe Z, Snyder RJ (2009) The information content of giant panda, Ailuropoda melanoleuca, bleats: acoustic cues to sex, age and size. Anim Behav 78:893–898CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Clutton-Brock TH, Albon SD (1979) The roaring of red deer and the evolution of honest advertising. Behaviour 69:145–170CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Clutton-Brock TH, Albon S, Guinness FE (1982) Red deer: behaviour and ecology of two sexes. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  14. Cowlishaw G (1996) Sexual selection and information content in gibbon song bouts. Ethology 102:272–284CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Evans CS, Evans L (1999) Chicken food calls are functionally referential. Anim Behav 58:307–319PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Facchini A, Bellieni C, Marchettini N, Pulselli F, Tiezzi E (2005) Relating pain intensity of newborns to onset of nonlinear phenomena in cry recordings. Phys Lett A 338:332–337CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Fitch WT (2000) The evolution of speech: a comparative review. Trends Cogn Sci 4:258–267PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Fitch WT, Reby D (2001) The descended larynx is not uniquely human. Proc R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 268:1669–1675CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Fitch WT, Neubauer J, Herzel H (2002) Calls out of chaos: the adaptive significance of nonlinear phenomena in mammalian vocal production. Anim Behav 63:407–418CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Gouzoules H, Gouzoules S, Marler P (1984) Rhesus monkey (Macaca mulatta) screams: representational signaling in the recruitment of agonistic aid. Anim Behav 32:182–193CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Kidjo N, Cargnelutti B, Charlton BD, Wilson C, Reby D (2008) Vocal behaviour in the endangered Corsican deer, description and phylogenetic implications. Bioacoustics 18:159–181Google Scholar
  22. Kroodsma DE, Byers BE, Goodale E, Johnson S, Liu WC (2001) Pseudoreplication in playback experiments, revisited a decade later. Anim Behav 61:1029–1033CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Manser MB (2001) The acoustic structure of suricates’ alarm calls varies with predator type and the level of response urgency. Proc R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 268:2315–2324CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. McComb KE (1991) Female Choice for High Roaring Rates in Red Deer, Cervus elaphus. Anim Behav 41:79–88CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. McComb K, Semple S (2005) Coevolution of vocal communication and sociality in primates. Biol Lett 1:381–385PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. McElligott AG, Hayden TJ (2001) Postcopulatory vocalizations of fallow bucks: who is listening? Behav Ecol 12:41–46CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Ouattara K, Lemasson A, Zuberbuhler K (2009) Campbell’s monkeys use affixation to alter call meaning. PLoS One 4:e7808PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Owren MJ, Rendall D (2001) Sound on the rebound: bringing form and function back to the forefront in understanding nonhuman primate vocal signaling. Evol Anthropol 10:58–71CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Reby D, McComb K (2003a) Anatomical constraints generate honesty: acoustic cues to age and weight in the roars of red deer stags. Anim Behav 65:519–530CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Reby D, McComb K (2003b) Vocal communication and reproduction in deer. In: Slater PJB, Rossenblatt JS, Roper TJ, Snowdon CT, Naguib M (eds) Advances in the study of behaviour, vol 33. Academic Press Inc., San Diego, pp 231–264Google Scholar
  31. Reby D, Hewison M, Izquierdo M, Pepin D (2001) Red deer (Cervus elaphus) hinds discriminate between the roars of their current harem-holder stag and those of neighbouring stags. Ethology 107:951–959CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Reby D, McComb K, Cargnelutti B, Darwin C, Fitch WT, Clutton-Brock TH (2005) Red deer stags use formants as assessment cues during intrasexual agonistic interactions. Proc R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 272:941–947CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Reby D, Charlton BD, Locatelli Y, McComb K (2010) Oestrous red deer hinds prefer male roars with higher fundamental frequencies. Proc R Soc B Biol Sci 277:2747–2753CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Sanvito S, Galimberti F, Miller EH (2007) Vocal signalling in male southern elephant seals is honest but imprecise. Anim Behav 73:287–299CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Slocombe KE, Zuberbuehler K (2007) Chimpanzees modify recruitment screams as a function of audience composition. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 104:17228–17233PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Slocombe KE, Zuberbuhler K (2005) Functionally referential communication in a chimpanzee. Curr Biol 15:1779–1784PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Taylor A, Reby D (2010) The contribution of source-filter theory to mammal vocal communication research. J Zool 280:221–236CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Tokuda I, Riede T, Neubauer J, Owren M, Herzel H (2002) Nonlinear analysis of irregular animal vocalizations. J Acoust Soc Am 111:2908PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Townsend SW, Manser MB (2011) The function of nonlinear phenomena in meerkat alarm calls. Biol Lett 7:47–49PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Vannoni E, McElligott AG (2007) Individual acoustic variation in fallow deer (Dama dama) common and harsh groans: a source-filter theory perspective. Ethology 113:223–234CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Wiley RH (2003) Is there an ideal behavioural experiment? Anim Behav 66:585–588CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Zuberbuhler K (2002) A syntactic rule in forest monkey communication. Anim Behav 63:293–299CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of PsychologyUniversity of SussexBrightonUK
  2. 2.Department of Cognitive BiologyUniversity of ViennaViennaAustria

Personalised recommendations