African savanna elephants live in dynamic fission–fusion societies and exhibit a sophisticated vocal communication system. Their most frequent call-type is the ‘rumble’, with a fundamental frequency (which refers to the lowest vocal fold vibration rate when producing a vocalization) near or in the infrasonic range. Rumbles are used in a wide variety of behavioral contexts, for short- and long-distance communication, and convey contextual and physical information. For example, maturity (age and size) is encoded in male rumbles by formant frequencies (the resonance frequencies of the vocal tract), having the most informative power. As sound propagates, however, its spectral and temporal structures degrade progressively. Our study used manipulated and resynthesized male social rumbles to simulate large and small individuals (based on different formant values) to quantify whether this phenotypic information efficiently transmits over long distances. To examine transmission efficiency and the potential influences of ecological factors, we broadcasted and re-recorded rumbles at distances of up to 1.5 km in two different habitats at the Addo Elephant National Park, South Africa. Our results show that rumbles were affected by spectral–temporal degradation over distance. Interestingly and unlike previous findings, the transmission of formants was better than that of the fundamental frequency. Our findings demonstrate the importance of formant frequencies for the efficiency of rumble propagation and the transmission of information content in a savanna elephant’s natural habitat.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited