Research Press Release

Evolution: Assessing the origins of vocal communication in vertebrates

Nature Communications

October 26, 2022

New vocal recordings from 53 animal species previously considered as non-vocal, are reported in a Nature Communications paper. An analysis based on these recordings suggests that acoustic communication in nose breathing vertebrates may have originated in a common ancestor about 407 million years ago.

Acoustic communication is fundamental to many vertebrate behaviours, such as for facilitating parental care and mate attraction. Previous research has suggested that acoustic communication evolved independently in several diverse groups, but the possibility of a common origin of this adaptation remained unclear. Phylogenetic analyses can provide insight into the evolutionary origins of acoustic communication, but previous attempts have not included recordings from key species, such as turtles and other reptiles, as they were considered non-vocal (incapable of communicating vocally).

To assess their acoustic communication abilities, Gabriel Jorgewich-Cohen and colleagues recorded vocalisations and behaviours of 53 species from 4 vertebrate clades (turtles, tuatara, caecilian and lungfish). The authors found that all recorded species possessed a varied acoustic repertoire, which included a number of different sounds, varying from chirps and clicks to complex tonal sounds. They then combined these recordings with data on the evolutionary history of acoustic communication for 1,800 species, including all groups of vertebrates, except fish. Based on their analyses, the authors propose that acoustic communications has a common origin for all nose breathing vertebrates approximately 407 million years ago.

The findings shed light on the origins of vocal communication, and expand our knowledge of vocal communication in diverse animal groups.


Return to research highlights

PrivacyMark System