Trade-offs in the production of animal vocal sequences: insights from the structure of wild chimpanzee pant hoots

Pawel Fedurek , Klaus Zuberbuhler, Stuart Semple

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34 Citations (Scopus)
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Vocal sequences - utterances consisting of calls produced in close succession - are common phenomena in animal communication. While many studies have explored the adaptive benefits of producing such sequences, very little is known about how the costs and constraints involved in their production affect their form. Here, we investigated this issue in the chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) pant hoot, a long and structurally complex vocal sequence comprising four acoustically distinct phases – introduction, build-up, climax and let-down.
We found that in each of these phases, and for the sequence as a whole, there was a negative relationship between the number of calls produced and their average duration. There was also a negative relationship between the total duration of some adjacent phases. Significant relationships between the fundamental frequency of calls and their number or duration were found for some phases of the sequence, but the direction of these relationships differed between particular phases.
These results indicate that there are trade-offs in terms of signal duration at two levels in pant-hoot production: between call number and duration, and between the relative durations of successive phases. These trade-offs are likely to reflect biomechanical constraints on vocal sequence production. Phase-specific trade-offs also appear to occur between fundamental frequency and call number or duration, potentially reflecting that different phases of the sequence are associated with distinct types of information, linked in different ways to call pitch. Overall, this study highlights the important role of costs and constraints in shaping the temporal and acoustic structure of animal vocal sequences.
Original languageEnglish
JournalFrontiers in Zoology
Issue number50
Publication statusPublished - 6 Nov 2017


  • Acoustic trade-offs
  • Call sequences
  • Chimpanzee
  • Compression
  • Menzerath’s law
  • Pant hoot


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