Elephant communication

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Abstract

Elephants live in a complex society in which both long- and short-distance communication plays an important role in the ability to locate mates and to maintain intra- and inter-group cohesion. Elephants use a variety of sensory channels in ways both complementary and redundant to achieve this communication, as well as to advertise physiological states, allow reliable assessment of intent, and engage in other behaviors of group living. The majority of long-distance communication is probably via infrasonic vocalizations and chemical signals, whereas vocalizations, chemical signals, and visual and tactile displays all play a role in short-distance interactions. Although much is known about the general social and behavioral contexts of elephant communication signals, more work needs to be done to elucidate the specific role of many signals. The next critical step in the study of the elephant’s vocal repertoire is to collect and categorize the calls of known individuals for later playback experiments to confirm their function. In addition, the way that physiological state affects chemical signals and vice versa is worthy of further study, as is the role of chemical, acoustic, and perhaps seismic communication in long-distance communication. Tactile and visual displays have been qualitatively described, but there is a need to quantify their role in the dynamic behaviors (such as conflict management) that maintain elephant society. Finally, the way in which signals from multiple sensory channels interact has been little studied and provides a rich arena for future work. Zoo Biol 19:425–445, 2000. © 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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