The energy cost of singing in wild rock hyrax males: Evidence for an index signal

Amiyaal Ilany, Adi Barocas, Michael Kam, Tchia Ilany, Eli Geffen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


In many species individuals advertise their quality via vocal communication. Although sound production requires energy, it is still unclear to what extent vocalizing increases metabolic rate. A substantial energetic cost of vocalization may suggest that it serves as a handicap. In this study, we evaluated the energetic cost of vocalization in the context of other activities in a free-living mammal. In the rock hyrax, Procavia capensis, males produce loud complex songs that convey multiple types of information about the singer. We used the doubly labelled water method to estimate field metabolic rate (FMR), in males that were collar-fitted with miniaturized recorders. Higher-ranked males sang longer songs, which also featured higher sound energy. However, contrary to our predictions, the duration of singing was negatively correlated with FMR, whereas the duration of other social sounds, typically associated with social conflicts, had a positive effect on FMR. We suggest that higher-ranking males expend overall less energy due to lower intrinsic metabolism, and thus the singing duration effect on FMR is a reflection of social rank. Rock hyrax singing is therefore assessed as requiring a high effort over a short period but not as a lengthy activity, matching the category of index signals. Singing may also serve as a handicap to the signaller, not because of its energetic cost but because it exposes the singer to potential predation. Our study is the first to record the activities and vocalizations of a free-living mammal in such detail. We discuss the costs and benefits of hyrax songs, suggesting that singing males trade safety from predators for increasing their reputation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)995-1001
Number of pages7
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2013
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We wish to thank Naomi Paz for editorial assistance. We are obliged to the many project students, field guides and park rangers who helped in the field. We wish to thank the Nature and Parks Authority for their permission to work at the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve and the Ein Gedi Field School for their hospitality and logistical support. We thank two anonymous referees for their insightful comments. The Israel Sciences Foundation funded the study (grants 488/05 , 461/09 ). AI is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis, an Institute sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture through NSF Award EF-0832858, with additional support from The University of Tennessee, Knoxville.


  • Field metabolic rate
  • Handicap principle
  • Index signal
  • Metabolism
  • Procavia capensis
  • Rock hyrax


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