Decoding Group Vocalizations: The Acoustic Energy Distribution of Chorus Howls Is Useful to Determine Wolf Reproduction
June 15, 2019
Population monitoring is crucial for wildlife management and conservation. In the last few decades, wildlife researchers have increasingly applied bioacoustics tools to obtain information on several essential ecological parameters, such as distribution and abundance. One such application involves wolves (Canis lupus). These canids respond to simulated howls by emitting group vocalizations known as chorus howls. These responses to simulated howls reveal the presence of wolf litters during the breeding period and are therefore often used to determine the status of wolf populations. However, the acoustic structure of chorus howls is complex and discriminating the presence of pups in a chorus is sometimes difficult, even for experienced observers. In this study, we evaluate the usefulness of analyses of the acoustic energy distribution in chorus howls to identify the presence of pups in a chorus. We analysed 110 Iberian wolf chorus howls with known pack composition and found that the acoustic energy distribution is concentrated at higher frequencies when there are pups vocalizing. We built predictive models using acoustic energy distribution features to determine the presence of pups in a chorus, concluding that the acoustic energy distribution in chorus howls can be used to determine the presence of wolf pups in a pack. The method we outline here is objective, accurate, easily implemented, and independent of the observer’s experience. These advantages are especially relevant in the case of broad scale surveys or when many observers are involved. Furthermore, the analysis of the acoustic energy distribution can be implemented for monitoring other social canids that emit chorus howls such as jackals or coyotes, provides an easy way to obtain information on ecological parameters such as reproductive success, and could be useful to study other group vocalizations.
Author(s): Vicente Palacios, José Vicente López-Bao, Luis Llaneza, Carlos Fernández, Enrique Font