December 5th, 2014
It is believed that the average mammal’s “voice” is determined by genetics, but new research suggests that, just like in humans, their surroundings might play an important role as well. A team of researchers from Queen Mary University of London has studied how goats bleat in different situations, finding that the sound changes when the animal joins a new group.
“We found that genetically related kids produced similar calls, which is not that surprising,” said Dr Elodie Briefer, lead researcher of the study, “but the calls of kids raised in the same social groups were also similar to each other, and became more similar as the kids grew older. This suggests that goat kids modify their calls according their social surroundings, developing similar ‘accents’.”
This finding suggests that other mammals’ “voices” might be conditioned by the environment as well. “People are so sure there is no effect of the environment that no-one has checked,” says Briefer, “but if goats can do it maybe all mammals’ accents could be affected by their environment.”
The researchers, who have published their finding in the journal Animal Behaviour, studied four groups of pygmy goats. First they monitored them at one week old, when they stay in sibling groups, and then at five weeks old, when they join larger social groups.
Photo: Wikipedia Commons
Briefer E, McElligott AG (2012). Social effects on vocal ontogeny in an ungulate (Capra hircus) Animal Behaviour