Social calls of the little auk (Alle alle) reflect body size and possibly partnership, but not sex


Source–filter theory posits that an individual’s size and vocal tract length are reflected in the parameters of their calls. In species that mate assortatively, this could result in vocal similarity. In the context of mate selection, this would mean that animals could listen in to find a partner that sounds—and therefore is—similar to them. We investigated the social calls of the little auk (Alle alle), a highly vocal seabird mating assortatively, using vocalizations produced inside 15 nests by known individuals. Source- and filter-related acoustic parameters were used in linear mixed models testing the possible impact of body size. A principal component analysis followed by a permuted discriminant function analysis tested the effect of sex. Additionally, randomization procedures tested whether partners are more vocally similar than random birds. There was a significant effect of size on the mean fundamental frequency of a simple call, but not on parameters of a multisyllable call with apparent formants. Neither sex nor partnership influenced the calls—there was, however, a tendency to match certain parameters between partners. This indicates that vocal cues are at best weak indicators of size, and other factors likely play a role in mate selection.


Osiecka, A. N., Briefer, E. F., Kidawa, D. and Wojczulanis-Jakubas K. 2023. Social calls of the little auk (Alle alle) reflect body size and possibly partnership, but not sex. Royal Society Open Science.

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