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The Acoustic Structure and Information Content of Female Koala Vocal Signals

Benjamin D. Charlton

School of Biology and Environmental Science, University College Dublin (UCD), Belfield, Dublin, Ireland

Abstract

Determining the information content of animal vocalisations can give valuable insights into the potential functions of vocal signals. The source-filter the ory of vocal production allows researchers to examine the information content of mammal vocalisations by linking variation in acoustic features with variation in relevant physical characteristics of the caller. Here I used a source-filter theory approach to classify female koala vocalisations into different call-types, and determine which acoustic features have the potential to convey important information about the caller to other conspecifics. A two-step cluster analysis classified female calls into bellows, snarls and tonal rejection calls. Additional results revealed that female koala vocalisations differed in their potential to provide information about a given caller’s phenotype that maybe of importance to receivers. Female snarls did not contain reliable acoustic cues to the caller’s identity and age. In contrast, female bellows and tonal rejection calls were individually distinctive, and the tonal rejection calls of older female koalas had consistently lower mean, minimum and maximum fundamental frequency. In addition, female bellows were significantly shorter in duration and had higher fundamental frequency, formant frequencies, and formant frequency spacing than male bellows. These results indicate that female koala vocalisations have the potential to signal the caller’s identity, age and sex. I go onto discuss the anatomical basis for these findings, and consider the possible functional relevance of signalling this type of information in the koala’s natural habitat.