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J Exp Biol. 2001 Feb;204(Pt 4):663-72.

Intra-syllabic acoustic signatures used by the king penguin in parent-chick recognition: an experimental approach.

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NAMC-UMR 8620, bat 446, Université Paris Sud, F-91400 Orsay, France.


In king penguin colonies, several studies have shown that both parent-chick recognition and mate-pair recognition are achieved by acoustic signals. The call of king penguins consists of strong frequency modulations with added beats of varying amplitude induced by the two-voice generating process. Both the frequency modulation pattern and the two-voice system could play a role in the identification of the calling bird. We investigated the potential role of these features in individual discrimination. Experiments were conducted by playing back altered or reconstructed parental signals to the corresponding chick. The results proved that the king penguin performs a complex analysis of the call, using both frequency modulation and the two-voice system. Reversed or frequency-modulation-suppressed signals do not elicit any responses. Modifying the shape of the frequency modulation by 30 % also impairs the recognition process. Moreover, we have demonstrated for the first time that birds perform an analysis of the beat amplitude induced by the two-voice system to assess individual identity. These two features, which are well preserved during the propagation of the signal, seem to be a reliable strategy to ensure the accurate transmission of individual information in a noisy colonial environment.

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