Acoustic parameters of courtship and human-directed friendly vocalisations in seven species of Neotropical deer in captivity

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Context: Polygynous deer rut vocalisations have been found to be highly conspicuous, typical of the species and important in sexual selection. Information about vocalisations is not available for Neotropical species (subfamily Odocoileinae). Aims: The objective was to record courtship vocalisations from all Neotropical deer available, looking for differences among species useful for taxonomic identification, characterise the vocalisations according to acoustic parameters and to try to determine functions. Methods: Four species of brocket deer (red, Mazama americana (n = 9); grey, M. gouazoubira (n = 7); Amazonian brown, M. nemorivaga (n = 3); Brazilian dwarf, M. nana (n = 1)), and one individual each of marsh (Blastocerus dichotomus), white-tailed (Odocoileus virginianus) and taruca (Hippocamellus antisensis) deer were recorded in captivity at two institutions, in conditions of courtship or human interaction. The acoustic analysis was performed with Praat. Data from the first three species of Mazama were analysed statistically with a multilevel model with two layers. Key results: In the context of courting either females or humans, male deer produced low-intensity, short-duration (0.1-0.3 s) bleats with fundamental frequencies (F0) between 100 and 400 Hz; calls were similar among species. The duration of these calls for Amazonian brown brocket males was significantly longer than for males of the other two species. Females of two species had longer-duration calls than did males, in friendly interactions with humans. F0 differences among species for both friendly and courtship calls were almost significant for males of M. gouazoubira. Individual differences were highly significant for both duration and mean F0. Mean F0 for courtship calls of adult males was not correlated with body size in six of the seven species, in contrast to the theory of acoustic allometry. Conclusions: The production of male courtship bleats is probably a basic feature of Odocoiline deer and is probably important in sexual selection and female choice. The differences from one species to another are not sufficient for taxonomic use but may be incipient isolating mechanisms between grey and Amazonian brown brocket deer. Implications: Studies of deer vocalisations have shown their importance in sexual selection and their incredible variety in closely related species and subspecies, but they have dealt mainly with Old World deer. This study fills a gap in our knowledge, as the first on Neotropical deer, which constitute six genera and 17 species and are widely distributed in the Americas. These data are important for future studies on the function and phylogeny of deer vocalisations.




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Animal Production Science, v. 60, n. 10, p. 1283-1291, 2020.

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