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Acoustic sequences in non-human animals: a tutorial review and prospectus

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Arik Kershenbaum, Dan Blumstein, Marie Roch, Çaglar Akçay, Gregory Backus, Mark A. Bee, Kirsten Bohn, Yan Cao, Gerald Carter, Cristiane Cäsar, Michael Coen, Stacy Lynn De Ruiter, Laurance Doyle, Shimon Edelman, Ramon Ferrer-i-Cancho, Todd M. Freeberg, Ellen Clare Garland, Morgan Gustison, Heidi E. Harley, Chloé Huetz & 22 others Melissa Hughes, Julia Hyland Bruno, Amiyaal Ilany, Dezhe Z. Jin, Michael Johnson, Chenghui Ju, Jeremy Karnowski, Bernard Lohr, Marta Manser, Brenda McCowan, Eduardo Mercado III, Peter M. Narins, Alex Piel, Megan Rice, Roberta Salmi, Kazutoshi Sasahara, Laela Sayigh, Yu Shiu, Charles Taylor, Edgar E. Vallejo, Sara Waller, Veronica Zamora-Gutierrez

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Abstract

Animal acoustic communication often takes the form of complex sequences, made up of multiple distinct acoustic units. Apart from the well-known example of birdsong, other animals such as insects, amphibians,and mammals (including bats, rodents, primates, and cetaceans) also generate complex acoustic sequences. Occasionally, such as with birdsong, the adaptive role of these sequences seems clear (e.g. mate attraction and territorial defence). More often however, researchers have only begun to characterise – let alone understand – the significance and meaning of acoustic sequences. Hypotheses abound, but there is little agreement as to how sequences should be defined and analysed. Our review aims to outline suitable methods for testing these hypotheses, and to describe the major limitations to our current and near-future knowledge on questions of acoustic sequences. This review and prospectus is the result of a collaborative effort between 43 scientists from the fields of animal behaviour, ecology and evolution, signal processing, machine learning,quantitative linguistics, and information theory, who gathered for a 2013 workshop entitled, ‘Analysing vocal sequences in animals’. Our goal is to present not just a review of the state of the art, but to propose a methodological framework that summarises what we suggest are the best practices for research in this field,across taxa and across disciplines. We also provide a tutorial-style introduction to some of the most promising algorithmic approaches for analysing sequences. We divide our review into three sections: identifying the distinct units of an acoustic sequence, describing the different ways that information can be contained within a sequence, and analysing the structure of that sequence. Each of these sections is further subdivided to address the key questions and approaches in that area. We propose a uniform, systematic, and comprehensive approach to studying sequences, with the goal of clarifying research terms used in different fields, and facilitating collaboration and comparative studies. Allowing greater interdisciplinary collaboration will facilitate the investigation of many important questions in the evolution of communication and sociality.
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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-52
JournalBiological Reviews of the Cambridge Philosophical Society
Volume91
Issue number1
Early online date26 Nov 2014
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2016

    Research areas

  • Acoustic communication, Information, Information theory, Machine learning, Markov model, Meaning, Network analysis, Vocalisation

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