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Am Nat. 2006 Sep;168(3):412-20. Epub 2006 Aug 7.

Mother-young recognition in an ungulate hider species: a unidirectional process.

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  • 1Institute of Plant Sciences, Applied Entomology, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), Schmelzbergstrasse 9, CH-8092, Zurich, Switzerland. marco.torriani@ipw.agrl.ethz.ch


Parent-offspring recognition is usually crucial for survival of young. In mammals, olfaction often only permits identification at short range, and vocalizations are important at longer distances. Following and hiding antipredator strategies found in newborn mammals may also affect parental recognition mechanisms. We investigated mother-offspring recognition in fallow deer, an ungulate hider species. We analyzed the structure of adult female and fawn contact calls to determine whether they are individually distinctive and tested for mother-offspring recognition. Only females (and not fawns) have individualized vocalizations, with the fundamental frequency as the most distinctive parameter. Playback experiments showed that fawns can distinguish the calls of their mothers from those of other females, but mothers could not discriminate their own and alien fawn calls. Thus, the vocal identification process is unidirectional. In followers, mother-offspring acoustic recognition is mutual, and therefore the different antipredator strategies of newborn mammals may have shaped the modalities of parent-offspring acoustic recognition.

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