Rodent diversification is associated with a large diversity of species-specific social vocalizations generated by two distinct laryngeal sound production mechanisms: whistling and airflow-induced vocal fold vibration. Understanding the relative importance of each modality to context-dependent acoustic interactions requires comparative analyses among closely related species. In this study, we used light gas experiments, acoustic analyses and laryngeal morphometrics to identify the distribution of the two mechanisms among six species of deer mice (Peromyscus spp.). We found that high frequency vocalizations (simple and complex sweeps) produced in close-distance contexts were generated by a whistle mechanism. In contrast, lower frequency sustained vocalizations (SVs) used in longer distance communication were produced by airflow-induced vocal fold vibrations. Pup isolation calls, which resemble adult SVs, were also produced by airflow-induced vocal fold vibrations. Nonlinear phenomena (NLP) were common in adult SVs and pup isolation calls, suggesting irregular vocal fold vibration characteristics. Both vocal production mechanisms were facilitated by a characteristic laryngeal morphology, including a two-layered vocal fold lamina propria, small vocal membrane-like extensions on the free edge of the vocal fold, and a singular ventral laryngeal air pocket known as the ventral pouch. The size and composition of vocal folds (rather than total laryngeal size) appears to contribute to species-specific acoustic properties. Our findings suggest that dual modes of sound production are more widespread among rodents than previously appreciated. Additionally, the common occurrence of NLP highlights the nonlinearity of the vocal apparatus, whereby small changes in anatomy or physiology trigger large changes in behavior. Finally, consistency in mechanisms of sound production used by neonates and adults underscores the importance of considering vocal ontogeny in the diversification of species-specific acoustic signals.

You do not currently have access to this content.