The study of animal vocal signals can either focus on the properties of distinct vocal elements or address the signal as a whole. Although some attention has been given to the continuous progression patterns of bird songs, such patterns in mammalian vocalisations have been largely overlooked. We examined temporal changes in structural and acoustic parameters in male rock hyrax songs. We found a gradual increase in call frequency and amplitude towards the song ending, as well as an abrupt increase in bout syntactic complexity, peaking in the last quintile of a song. In musical terms, such a pattern can be described as a crescendo (amplitude increase) with a terminal climax. In Western music, crescendos are used to maintain attention and direct the listeners towards a memorable highpoint of the musical piece. This structure may have an analogous function in animal communication, recruiting audience attention towards the climactic and potentially most informative part of the signal. Our playback experiments revealed that hyrax males tend to reply more to songs with a climactic ending, indicating that this progression pattern is important for hyrax communication. We suggest that animal vocal communication research can benefit from adding musical concepts to the analysis toolbox.
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© The Author(s) 2017.