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Retraction of the mobile descended larynx during groaning enables fallow bucks (Dama dama) to lower their formant frequencies


Alan G. McElligott, Verhaltensbiologie, Zoologisches Institut, Universität Zürich, Winterthurerstr. 190, CH-8057 Zürich, Switzerland. Tel: +41 44 6355486;
Fax: +41 44 6355490


A permanently descended larynx is found in humans and several other species of mammals. In addition to this, the larynx of species such as fallow deer is mobile and in males it can be retracted during vocalization. The most likely explanation for the lowered retractable larynx in mammals is that it serves to exaggerate perceived body size (size exaggeration hypothesis) by decreasing the formant frequencies of calls. In this study, we quantified for the first time the elongation of the vocal tract in fallow bucks during vocalization. We also measured the effect of this vocal tract length (VTL) increase on formant frequencies (vocal tract resonances) and formant dispersion (spacing of formants). Our results show that fallow bucks increase their VTL on average by 52% during vocalization. This elongation resulted in strongly lowered formant frequencies and decreased formant dispersion. There were minimal changes to formants 1 and 2 (−0.91 and +1.9%, respectively) during vocal tract elongation, whereas formants 3, 4 and 5 decreased substantially: 18.9, 10.3 and 13.6%, respectively. Formant dispersion decreased by 12.4%. Formants are prominent in deer vocalizations and are used by males to gain information on the competitive abilities of signallers. It remains to be seen whether females also use the information that formants contain for assessing male quality before mating.