Acoustic allometry and vocal learning in mammals
Garcia, M., & Ravignani, A.
Acoustic allometry and vocal learning in mammals. Biology Letters, 16
: 20200081. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2020.0081.
Acoustic allometry is the study of how animal vocalisations reflect their body size. A key aim of this research is to identify outliers to acoustic allometry principles and pinpoint the evolutionary origins of such outliers. A parallel strand of research investigates species capable of vocal learning, the experience-driven ability to produce novel vocal signals through imitation or modification of existing vocalisations. Modification of vocalizations is a common feature found when studying both acoustic allometry and vocal learning. Yet, these two fields have only been investigated separately to date. Here, we review and connect acoustic allometry and vocal learning across mammalian clades, combining perspectives from bioacoustics, anatomy and evolutionary biology. Based on this, we hypothesize that, as a precursor to vocal learning, some species might have evolved the capacity for volitional vocal modulation via sexual selection for ‘dishonest’ signalling. We provide preliminary support for our hypothesis by showing significant associations between allometric deviation and vocal learning in a dataset of 164 mammals. Our work offers a testable framework for future empirical research linking allometric principles with the evolution of vocal learning.