The "Law of Brevity" in animal communication: Sex-specific signaling optimization is determined by call amplitude rather than duration

Vlad Demartsev, Naomi Gordon, Adi Barocas, Einat Bar-Ziv, Tchia Ilany, Yael Goll, Amiyaal Ilany, Eli Geffen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The efficiency of informational transfer is one of the key aspects of any communication system. The informational coding economy of human languages is often demonstrated by their almost universal fit to Zipf's "Law of Brevity," expressing negative relationship between word length and its usage frequency. Animal vocal systems, however, provided mixed results in their adherence to this relationship, potentially due to conflicting evolutionary pressures related to differences in signaling range and communicational needs. To examine this potential parallel between human and animal vocal communication, and also to explore how divergent, sex-specific, communicational settings affect signaling efficiency within a species, we examined the complete vocal repertoire of rock hyraxes (Procavia capensis). As male and female hyraxes differ in their sociality levels and male hyraxes vocal repertoire is dominated by sexual advertisement songs, we hypothesized that sex-specific vocal repertoires could be subjected to different signaling optimization pressures. Our results show that the sexes differ in repertoire size, call usage, and adherence to coding efficiency principles. Interestingly, the classic call length/call usage relationship is not consistently found in rock hyraxes. Rather, a negative relationship between call amplitude and call usage is found, suggesting that the efficiency of the vocal repertoire is driven by call amplitude rather than duration. We hypothesize that, in contrast to human speech that is mainly intended for short distance, the need for frequent long-range signaling shapes an animal's vocal repertoire efficiency according to the cost of call amplitude rather than call length. However, call duration may be a secondary factor affecting signaling efficiency, in cases where amplitude is under specific selection pressures, such as sexual selection.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to) 623-634
JournalEvolution Letters
Volume3
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2019

Keywords

  • Animal communication
  • Law of Brevity
  • vocal coding efficiency
  • vocal repertoire

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