Lifetime changes in vocal syntactic complexity of rock hyrax males are determined by social class

Vlad Demartsev, Arik Kershenbaum, Amiyaal Ilany, Adi Barocas, Yishai Weissman, Lee Koren, Eli Geffen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


The ontogeny of quality-based signals has been studied in numerous animal systems but the degradation of vocal signals with age has received much less attention. Investigating age-related changes in quality-based acoustic signals and the associated social processes (e.g. rank changes, competition intensity) can expand our understanding of the information content of signals and their perception by receivers. To address this issue, we monitored the changes in syntactic complexity of songs in male rock hyraxes, Procavia capensis, over their lifetime. These songs are known to reflect the signallers' identity and quality. We found that age, residency and tenure had a combined effect on the syntactic structure of signals. Progression trends differed according to the signallers’ social status. For mature bachelor males song complexity increased with age, whereas it decreased for resident males, which had performed complex songs at the beginning of their residency tenure. This decline in complexity, potentially indicating fatigue, has also been associated with increased competition pressure, reflected in males' increased tendency to become involved in fights. In previous studies on animal vocal signalling and human speech, no effects of senescence on syntactic complexity were detected. Our current findings, however, suggest that vocal complexity is informative and could be reflective of the condition and competitive abilities of the signallers. However, an alternative explanation of lower signal complexity due to decreasing competitive motivation is also discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)151-158
Number of pages8
JournalAnimal Behaviour
StatePublished - Jul 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are grateful to the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve staff for their logistic support, to the Nature and Park Authority for permission to work in the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve and to the Ein Gedi Field School for their hospitality. We thank all project students, field assistants and guests for their valuable help in the field, and N. Paz for her editorial services. This study was supported by grants from the Israel Science Foundation ( 577/99 , 488/05 , 461/09 , 550/14 ). Part of this work was done while V.D. was a Minerva Stiftung postdoctoral fellow.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019


  • badge of dominance
  • senescence
  • syntax
  • vocal communication


Dive into the research topics of 'Lifetime changes in vocal syntactic complexity of rock hyrax males are determined by social class'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this