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Abstract

The maintenance of social relationships is critical for group-dwelling species. Social animals often exhibit behaviors such as antiphonal vocalizations that reduce conflict and maintain affiliations. Naked mole-rats (Heterocephalus glaber) have a complex hierarchical society comparable to that of bees and ants. They are also known for their extensive vocal repertoire, which may have evolved in the absence of visual cues. The most frequent vocalization used by naked mole-rats is the soft chirp (SC). It has an antiphonal nature and may function in rank identification and in maintaining affiliations. Relative body weight differences, which are directly related to social rank, are positively correlated with SC emission rates. SCs are elicited from either physical touch or the SC of another conspecific, and other cues might contribute to SC utterance. In the current study, we examined whether an SC alone was able to elicit SC responses. Specifically, we presented artificial SC-like sounds and determined whether the response rate was modulated by the acoustic properties of the stimulus. An analysis of response latency revealed that animals responded to the audio stimuli, and a single audio stimulus could elicit responses from two animals. Thus, antiphony in naked mole-rats may occur among three or more animals. We also found that animals were able to discriminate the acoustic properties of the stimulus and responded more frequently to audio stimuli resembling SCs from large animals than to those resembling SCs from small animals. Therefore, naked mole-rats may be able to judge social relationships (dominant or subordinate) based solely on SCs. The constraints of subterranean habitats and increased social complexity may have led to the evolution of this communication system.