Michaela Syrová, Richard Policht, Pavel Linhart, Marek Špinka
Many studies have shown that animal vocalizations can signal individual identity and group/family membership. However, much less is known about the ontogeny of identity information—when and how this individual/group distinctiveness in vocalizations arises and how it changes during the animal’s life. Recent findings suggest that even species that were thought to have limited vocal plasticity could adjust their calls to sound more similar to each other within a group. It has already been shown that sows can acoustically distinguish their own offspring from alien piglets and that litters differ in their calls. Surprisingly, individual identity in piglet calls has not been reported yet. In this paper, this gap is filled, and it is shown that there is information about piglet identity. Information about litter identity is confirmed as well. Individual identity increased with age, but litter vocal identity did not increase with age. The results were robust as a similar pattern was apparent in two situations differing in arousal: isolation and back-test. This paper argues that, in piglets, increased individual discrimination results from the rapid growth of piglets, which is likely to be associated with growth and diversification of the vocal tract rather than from social effects and vocal plasticity.
The majority of altricial bird species defend their brood against predators more intensively in nestlings rather than eggs stage. Several hypotheses have been proposed to explain this difference. The majority of existing experimental studies have recorded a gradually increasing intensity of nest defence supporting the reproductive value hypothesis. We have compared nest defence in two nesting stages of the red-backed shrike against two predators of adult birds and against two predators of nests. While the nests with nestlings were defended by parents against three out of four predators, nests with eggs were almost not defended at all. This rapid change in parent nest defence supports rather the vulnerability hypothesis, predicting that the threat to nests with nestlings increases rapidly after hatching, as they became more conspicuous due to their begging and parental provisioning. Unlike most of the species tested previously, the red-backed shrike uses very vigorous mobbing towards predators. We suggest that the occurrence of this active mobbing (strikes, including physical contact) is a good proxy of the current threat to the nest.
Špinka M, Syrová M, Policht R, Linhart P
Piglet vocalization rates are used as welfare indicators. The emission rates of the two gross categories of piglet calls, namely low frequency calls (“grunts”) and high frequency calls (“screams”), may contain different information about the piglet’s internal state due to differing communicative functions of the two call types. More knowledge is needed about the sources of variation in calling rates within and between piglets. We examined to what extent the emission rates of the two call types are codetermined by individual and litter identity, i.e., whether the rates are repeatable within individuals and similar between littermates. We recorded frequency of grunts and screams in one mildly negative (short-term Isolation) and one moderately negative (manual Restraint) situation during the first week (week 1) and the 4th week (week 4) of life and asked the following questions: 1) Are within-individual vocalization rates stable across the suckling period? 2) Are within-individual vocalization rates stable across the two situations? 3) Is there within-litter similarity in vocalization rates? 4) Does this within-litter similarity increase during the suckling period? Within-individual vocalization rates were stable between week 1 and week 4 (grunts in Restraint P < 0.05; grunts in Isolation P < 0.001; screams in Restraint P < 0.001; screams in Isolation P < 0.001). Across the two situations at the same age, the vocalization rates were not stable for grunts but were stable for screams at week 1 and week 4 (P < 0.05). Vocalization rates were more similar between littermates than between piglets belonging to different litters (grunts in Restraint P < 0.001; grunts in Isolation P < 0.01; screams in Restraint P < 0.001; screams in Isolation P < 0.001). This litter effect did not grow stronger from week 1 to week 4 as the within-litter coefficient of variance did not decrease between the two ages. Sex of the piglet had no influence on vocalization rates while greater body weight was associated with lower screaming rates in the Restraint situation (P < 0.05). In conclusion, our study demonstrates that both individuality of the piglet and litter identity affect the vocalization rates of piglets in negatively valenced situations. For screams, the repeatability of individual vocalization rates holds even across situations, while for grunts, the rates are repeatable during ontogeny within the situations, but not across situations.
Despite the encountering of a predator always being extremely threatening, there is a significant plasticity among individuals in how they cope with such a situation. In laboratory experiments with wild-caught great tits (Parus major), we tested the effect of exploratory behaviour (performance in novel food, object and environment test, startle test) on the ability of individual birds to assess the threat represented by a predator. We presented a wooden dummy of the European sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus), an extremely dangerous predator, and its visual modifications (chimeras), changing the beak or head to be non-threatening (those of a pigeon – Columba livia f. domestica). We showed that the differences between ‘slow’ and ‘fast explorers’ are not very distinct, but that ‘slow explorers’ generally tended to be more cautious in the presence of an unmodified sparrowhawk dummy, while the ‘fast explorers’ tended to observe the dummy. On the contrary, ‘slow explorers’ tended to treat both chimaeras (and the pigeon dummy as well) as less-threatening than ‘fast explorers’. Since ‘slow explorers’ are usually considered to be more sensitive to environmental cues, it came as no surprise that most of them correctly assessed the unmodified sparrowhawk dummy as threatening, while they probably subjected the chimeras to a detailed inspection and were not confused by the presence of sparrowhawk features and assessed them as non-threatening.
Heterospecific alarm calls are typically found in situations where multiple species
have a common predator. In birds, they are particularly common in mixed mixed-species flocks. In species with highly developed social and cognitive abilities like corvids, there is the potential for differential responses to heterospecific vs. conspecific
calls according to the riskiness of the habitat. We tested the responses of free-ranging
ravens (Corvus corax) to conspecific alarm calls and compared them to heterospecific
alarm calls of jackdaws (Corvus monedula). We observed the proportion of ravens leaving the feeding site after the con-or hetero-specific playback was presented in a situation of low threat (wild boar—Sus scrofa enclosure) and high threat of
predation (wolf—Canis lupus enclosure). We show that ravens responded to conspecific calls more intensively at the wolves than at the wild boar, but the response to conspecific calls was in both enclosures stronger than to the control (great tit—Parus
major song). The response to the heterospecific alarm was also stronger in the wolves’
enclosure, but it did not differ from control in the wild boar enclosure. These findings
suggest that ravens are aware of the meaning of the jackdaw alarm calls, but they
respond to it only in a situation of high predatory threat (wolves are present). In the
wild boar enclosure, the ravens probably consider jackdaws warning against some
other predator, very probably harmless to ravens. This interpretation requires further
testing, as both enclosures differ also in respect to other parameters like food quality
and shelter availability.