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Nat Commun. 2012;3:1184. doi: 10.1038/ncomms2165.

Behavioural and neurobiological implications of linear and non-linear features in larynx phonations of horseshoe bats.

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Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology, UCLA, Los Angeles, California 90095-1606, USA.


Mammalian vocalizations exhibit large variations in their spectrotemporal features, although it is still largely unknown which result from intrinsic biomechanical properties of the larynx and which are under direct neuromuscular control. Here we show that mere changes in laryngeal air flow yield several non-linear effects on sound production, in an isolated larynx preparation from horseshoe bats. Most notably, there are sudden jumps between two frequency bands used for either echolocation or communication in natural vocalizations. These jumps resemble changes in 'registers' as in yodelling. In contrast, simulated contractions of the main larynx muscle produce linear frequency changes, but are limited to echolocation or communication frequencies. Only by combining non-linear and linear properties can this larynx, therefore, produce sounds covering the entire frequency range of natural calls. This may give behavioural meaning to yodelling-like vocal behaviour and reshape our thinking about how the brain controls the multitude of spectral vocal features in mammals.

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