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Radiographic analysis of vocal tract length and its relation to overall body size in two canid species


  • Editor: Andrew Kitchener


Drew Rendall, Department of Psychology, The University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada T1K 3M4. Tel: 403-329-2556; Fax: 403-329-2555



Body size is an important determinant of resource and mate competition in many species. Competition is often mediated by conspicuous vocal displays, which may help to intimidate rivals and attract mates by providing honest cues to signaler size. Fitch proposed that vocal tract resonances (or formants) should provide particularly good, or honest, acoustic cues to signaler size because they are determined by the length of the vocal tract, which in turn, is hypothesized to scale reliably with overall body size. There is some empirical support for this hypothesis, but to date, many of the effects have been either mixed for males compared with females, weaker than expected in one or the other sex, or complicated by sampling issues. In this paper, we undertake a direct test of Fitch's hypothesis in two canid species using large samples that control for age- and sex-related variation. The samples involved radiographic images of 120 Portuguese water dogs Canis lupus familiaris and 121 Russian silver foxes Vulpes vulpes. Direct measurements were made of vocal tract length from X-ray images and compared against independent measures of body size. In adults of both species, and within both sexes, overall vocal tract length was strongly and significantly correlated with body size. Effects were strongest for the oral component of the vocal tract. By contrast, the length of the pharyngeal component was not as consistently related to body size. These outcomes are some of the clearest evidence to date in support of Fitch's hypothesis. At the same time, they highlight the potential for elements of both honest and deceptive body signaling to occur simultaneously via differential acoustic cues provided by the oral versus pharyngeal components of the vocal tract.