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Contact calling in context: intra- and intergroup variation in vocalization rates depend on a call’s function


To maintain group cohesion while coordinating group movements, individuals might use signals to advertise the location of a route, their intention to initiate movements, or their position at a given time. In highly mobile animals, the latter is often accomplished through contact calls that are emitted at different rates by group members. Here, we describe and quantify intra- and intergroup variation in contact calling rates in Spix’s disc-winged bats (Thyroptera tricolor), a species that employs distinct inquiry and response calls to coordinate group movements during flight and while announcing roost locations. We evaluate the extent to which groups are composed of individuals with similar calling rates and estimate variation among and within groups. Our results show large variation in response calling rates among and within groups, both in terms of calling rates and the probability of being vocal or not; for example, a large portion (35%) of bats sampled did not produce these signals. For inquiry calls, we found that variation in calling rates was greater within than among groups, and in contrast to response calls, only a few individuals (3%) did not produce inquiry calls. Overall, we found support for the existence of intra- and intergroup differences in the context of contact calling in disc-winged bats, and our results suggest that different mechanisms may promote the evolution and maintenance of varying calling rates for the two types of calls studied.

Significance statement

Animal communication networks are comprised of individuals with different vocal behaviors. However, we still do not fully understand the mechanisms that facilitate individual and group variation in vocal behavior and how these differences affect group cohesion in highly mobile organisms. Here, we describe and quantify contact calling behavior in Spix’s disc-winged bats (Thyroptera tricolor) and evaluate whether vocal behavior is associated with group membership and call type. We found consistent individual differences in contact calling rates, as well as among-group variation in calls associated to roost finding. Our study provides a baseline for generating hypotheses regarding the costs and benefits of contact call production during group movements.

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We would like to thank Jose Pablo Barrantes, Silvia Chaves-Ramírez, Giada Giacomini, Andrés Hernández-Pinsón, and Abigail J. Jago, who greatly contributed to data collection. Julio Bustamante and Lilliana Rubí Jimenez provided valuable guidance during research permit application. We also thank Ronald Villalobos for logistics support and the Centro Biológico Hacienda Barú for their continuous support of our research. Lastly, we greatly appreciate the insightful comments of Erin Gillam, Gerry Carter, and several anonymous reviewers; this manuscript has significantly improved because of them.


GC was funded by the University of Costa Rica, and YA-A was supported by the Research Council of Norway (SFF-III 223257/F50).

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Correspondence to Gloriana Chaverri.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interests.

Ethical approval

For the handling of animals, we followed the ABS (Animal Behavior Society)/ASAB (Association for the Study of Animal Behavior) “Guidelines for the treatment of animals in behavioral research and teaching.” This study was conducted in accordance with the ethical standards for animal welfare of the Costa Rican Ministry of Environment and Energy, Sistema Nacional de Áreas de Conservación, permit no. SINAC-ACOPAC-RES-INV-008-2017. Protocols were also approved by the University of Costa Rica’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (CICUA-42-2018).

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Communicated by M. Knoernschild

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Chaverri, G., Araya-Ajoy, Y.G. & Sagot, M. Contact calling in context: intra- and intergroup variation in vocalization rates depend on a call’s function. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 74, 57 (2020).

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  • Communication
  • Contact call
  • Repeatability
  • Thyroptera tricolor