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J Exp Biol. 2004 Jan;207(Pt 3):443-8.

Acoustic communication in noise: regulation of call characteristics in a New World monkey.

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  • 1Freie Universität Berlin, Institut für Biologie, Verhaltensbiologie, Haderslebener Strasse 9, 12163 Berlin, Germany. brumm@zedat.fu-berlin.de


This study on common marmosets Callithrix jacchus is the first to examine noise-dependent mechanisms of vocal plasticity in a New World monkey. Since acoustic communication can be considerably impaired by environmental noise, some animals have evolved adaptations to counteract its masking effects. The studied marmosets increased the sound level of their spontaneous calls in response to increased levels of white noise broadcast to them. Possibly, such noise-dependent adjustment of vocal amplitude serves to maintain a specific signal-to-noise ratio that is favourable for signal production. Concurrently, the adjustment of vocal amplitude can maintain a given active space for communication. In contrast to some bird species, no noise-induced increase in the number of syllables per call series could be found, showing that an increased serial redundancy of vocal signals was not used to communicate under noisy conditions. Finally, we examined a possible noise-dependent prolongation of vocal signals. This approach was guided by the findings of perceptional studies, which suggest an increased detection probability of prolonged signals in noise by temporal summation. Marmosets indeed increased the duration of their call syllables along with increasing background noise levels. This is the first evidence of such mechanism of vocal plasticity in an animal communication system.

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