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), primate communication (Florence Levréro) or even on what we can learn from the acoustics of brass instruments (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 2000 words portfolio, in which you will collate the exercises completed during the four practical sessions.


Provisional Schedule

Monday 27th September

Morning Lecture: Presentation of the course. The anatomy of the mammalian vocal apparatus. Production and acoustics of the mammalian vocalisations. The source filter theory (D. Reby).

Afternoon Practical: Dissection of a fallow deer larynx. Investigating CT data using Horus (D. Reby, L. Barluet, L. Papet).


Tuesday 28th September

Morning Lecture: Indexical cues in mammal vocal signals. The evolution of size communication. Honesty and exaggeration (D. Reby).

Afternoon Practical: Visualising mammal vocal signals with PRAAT. Measuring F0, Formants and estimating vocal tract length. Psola resynthesis.


Wednesday 29th September

Morning Lecture: Mother-young recognition, and adult (e.g. long distance) individual recognition in mammals.

Afternoon Practical: Analysing individual differences (DFA etc.). Designing playback experiments.


Thursday 30th September

Morning Lecture: The vocal expression of vocal emotions and motivation in social contexts. Morton MS rules, Ohala’s size code, nonlinear phenomena (D. Reby).

Afternoon Practical: Synthesising animal vocal signals with Soundgen (A. Anikin).


Friday 1st October

Morning: Research talk(s) and supervised study time

Lunch: ENES lab talk

Afternoon: Assessment finalisation (tutored) - online submission @ 4pm.

Organiser and tutor: David Reby

Tutors: Florence Levrero, Nicolas Mathevon, Andrey Anikin, Daria Valente, Leo Papet.

Demonstrators: Lucie Barluet, Mathilde Massenet.

Guests Speakers: Tecumseh Fitch, Joel Gilbert, Alan McElligott, Megan Wyman.