Comparative bioacoustics II: Mammals (Week 3, 3 ECTS)


In this module we will review the production, nature, function and evolution of mammal vocal signals. We will see how mammalian vocalisations are produced and how this ensures the encoding of both static (indexical) and dynamic (emotional, motivational) information. We will see how this information is encoded in three key contexts: sexual communication, parent-offspring interactions, and social interactions. 

In parallel during lab- and computer-based practical sessions we will review cutting edge methods and tools for analysing and synthesising mammal vocalisations. Research talks, on e.g. the evolution of size communication (D. Reby), dog-human vocal interactions (Mathilde Massenet), Lemur vocal signals  (Daria Valente) or even on what the acoustics of brass instruments can teach us about elephant calls (Joel Gilbert) will expose you directly to current research in these fast-expanding areas of comparative vocal communication.

© David Reby

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module, a successful student should be able to:

1. Demonstrate an understanding of how mammal vocal signals are produced, structured and perceived.

2. Demonstrate familiarity with main issues and current topics relating to the function and evolution of mammalian vocal communication.

3. Demonstrate a good understanding of tools for analysing and synthesising mammal vocal signals.



The final mark will be based on a portfolio, in which you will collate the exercises completed during the practical sessions.


Provisional Schedule

Monday 27th September

Morning Lecture (9-12): Presentation of the module. The anatomy of the mammalian vocal apparatus. Production and acoustics of the mammalian vocalisations. The source filter theory (D. Reby). Nonlinear phenomena (D. Reby).

Afternoon Practical (13:30-17:30): Dissection of a fallow deer larynx. Investigating imaging data for vocal tract modelling using Horos (D. Reby, L. Barluet, D. Valente).


Tuesday 28th September

Morning Lecture (9-12): Indexical cues in mammal vocal signals. Morton MS rules, Ohala’s size code. The evolution of size communication: Honesty and exaggeration (D. Reby).

Afternoon Practical (13:30-17:30): Visualising mammal vocal signals with PRAAT. Measuring F0, Formants and estimating vocal tract length. Psola resynthesis (D. Reby, D. Valente, M. Massenet).


Wednesday 29th September

Morning: (9-12): Empirical project (free or tutored time).

Afternoon workshop (13:30-17:30): How to study a vocal behaviour from production to evolution: from sound analyses to designing playback experiments (M. Massenet, D. Reby, D. Valente). Research talk by Mathilde Massenet.


Thursday 30th September

Morning Lecture (10-12): Vocal communication in social contexts: the case of primates (Florence Levrero).

Afternoon Practical (13:30-17:30): Synthesising animal vocal signals with Soundgen (A. Anikin, D. Reby, M. Massenet).


Friday 1st October

Morning (9-12): Research talk(s) by Daria Valente (Lemur Vocal Communication), Joel Gilbert (brass instruments & mammal vocalisations) & Veronika Beeck (Vocal plasticity in elephants).

Afternoon (13-16): supervised study time (D. Reby). - portfolio submission @ 4pm.

Organiser and tutor: David Reby

Tutors: Florence Levrero, Andrey Anikin, Daria Valente.

Demonstrators: Lucie Barluet, Mathilde Massenet.

Guests Speakers: Daria Valente, Veronika Beeck, Joel Gilbert.