We are working on various aspects of mammal communication, in particular focusing on the sound production and perception, and the kinds of information vocal signals can provide listeners with (e.g., physical and motivational attributes of the caller).
In addition we are interested in vocal learning, vocal ontogeny and how maturational, environmental and social affects influence call ontogeny in different species.
The main species we are working on are African savannah and Asian elephants (with one running FWF project), but research on various additional species is in progress: Giant pandas, giraffes, cheetahs and the Tasmanian devil. We are privileged to have numerous collaborations with research and animal keeping institutions worldwide, from South Africa to China, which enables us to study species normally hard to access.
Lab leader: Dr. Mag. Angela Stoeger
Lab members: Mag. Anton Baotic, Tina Nagorzanski
Vocal tract resonances or formant frequencies (formants) are a very important means of transferring information in human speech. The perceptual relevance and functions of formants in nonhuman mammal vocal communication systems, however, remain less well understood.
In the context of this project, we will investigate whether formants in African elephant low-frequency rumbles provide constant information on physical and motivational attributes of the caller. Since next to nothing is known about elephant bull signals and especially male vocalizations in vertebrates are often subject to sexual selection, there will be a strong focus on male elephant vocalizations and behaviour. We will use re-synthesis techniques and playback experiments to determine the perceptual and functional relevance of specific acoustic characteristics of elephant rumbles; in particular, we aim to examine whether the size exaggeration hypothesis also applies to elephants, the largest terrestrial mammal.
Collaborative Research: Development of an acoustic early warning system
In collaboration with Dipl. Ing. Dr. Matthias Zeppelzauer from the Media Computing
Institut für Creative\Media/Technologies, Fachhochschule St. Pölten, we establish an acoustic monitoring system for elephants. The decline of habitat for elephants as a result of expanding human activity combined with increasing elephant numbers in spatially separated clusters of conservation areas is a serious conservation problem in Africa. Nearly 80% of the distributional range of elephants in Southern Africa stretches beyond the borders of officially protected areas. This fact leads to deadly conflicts between humans and elephants.
We want to alleviate these conflicts by the development of early acoustic warning and information systems (making use of the low frequency vocalizations) for humans living near the corridors who regularly get into serious conflict with traveling elephants.
The goals of the project are (i) to investigate the complex vocal communication system of elephants in more detail (including vocal dialects) and (ii) to develop automatic analysis techniques that are able to robustly recognize and classify elephant calls from data obtained under natural conditions.
Giant Panda: Vocal repertoire and functional relevance of infant Giant Panda vocalizations (in collaboration with the Bifengxia panda base, China)
Tasmanian devil: This marsupial species is known for its high vocal activity; however, the biological relevance of devil vocalizations is largely unknown. In collaboration with the Zoo Copenhagen and Australian-wide conservation and breeding Centre’s this project aims to increase the knowledge of the devil’s vocalizations and their use in social and reproductive contexts.
Giraffes: Not a highly vocal species, but Giraffes do produce vocalizations in particular contexts. In collaboration with Dr. Roland Frey (IZW Berlin), we investigate the acoustic structure and the potential function of Giraffe vocalizations, as well as the vocal tract anatomy.
Cheetah: upcoming research focusing on contact calling and vocal communication in reproductive contexts.
· Addo Elephant National Park, South Africa
· Advantures with Elephants, Bela Bela, South Africa
· AERU (African Elephant Research Unit), Knysna Elephant Park, South Africa
· Elephant Whisperers, Hazyview, South Africa
· Pilanesberg Elephant Back Safaries, South Africa
· China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda,
Ya'an , P.R., China
· Zoos: Vienna Zoo, Salzburg Zoo, Hirschstetten Zoo, Copenhagen Zoo, Basle Zoo, Leipzig Zoo, Wuppertal Zoo, Berlin Zoo, Emmen Zoo, Heidelberg Zoo, San Diego Zoo
Interesting links (media reports) with information about our research
Dipl. Ing. Gunnar Heilman, Gfai Tech GmbH, Berlin, Germany
Addo Elephant National Park, South Africa
Advantures with Elephants, Bela Bela, South Africa
AERU (African Elephant Research Unit), Knysna Elephant Park
Dr. Dipl. Ing. Mattias Teppelzauer und Prof. Christian Breiteneder, Institute for Software Technology and Interactive Systems, Vienna University of Technology, Vienna,
Dr. Andre Ganswindt, Section of Reproduction, Department of Production Animal Studies, University of Pretoria, Onderstepoort, South Africa
Dr. Shermin de Sliva, Society for Conservation Biology, Asia Section, Smithsonian Institution, Trunks & Leaves Inc., Elephant Research Projekt, 1/657 Thanamalwila Road, Udawalawe, Sri Lanka, email.: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Florian Sicks, Curator at the Tiergarten Berlin, Germany, F.Sicks@tierpark-berlin.de
Dr. Andrea Ravignani, Artificial Intelligence Lab, Vrije University Brussel, email@example.com