Bioacoustic distances between the begging calls of brood parasites and their host species: A comparison of metrics and techniques

Louis Ranjard, Michael G. Anderson, Matt J. Rayner, Robert B. Payne, Ian McLean, James V. Briskie, Howard A. Ross, Dianne H. Brunton, Sarah M.N. Woolley, Mark E. Hauber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A variety of bioacoustics distance metrics have been used to assess similarities in the vocalizations of different individuals. Here, we provide a detailed analysis of several acoustic similarity indices, some of which have been developed with the specific aim of characterizing the sensory coding of auditory stimuli. We compare different approaches through the analysis of begging calls of several passerine species and specialist brood parasitic cuckoos that putatively evolved to mimic their hosts. The different bioacoustics distances did not provide consistently correlated similarity patterns, implying that they are sensitive to different sound features. However, the encoded spectrogram alignment method was correlated with all other acoustic distance metrics, suggesting that this method provides a consistent approach to use when the perceptually salient sound parameters are unknown for a particular species. Our analyses confirm that statistical similarity of begging calls can be detected in a New Zealand pair of host and specialist parasite species. We also show detectable similarity in two other Australasian host-parasite pairs and another New Zealand system, but to a more limited extent. By examining phylogenetic patterns in the begging call diversity, we also confirm that specialist cuckoos have evolved to mimic the begging calls of their hosts but host species have not co-evolved to modify their calls in response to begging call similarity by the parasite. Our results illustrate that understanding the function and mechanism of behavioral copying and mimicry requires statistically consistent measures of similarity that are related to both the physical aspects of the particular display and the sensory basis of its perception.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1915-1926
Number of pages12
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number11
StatePublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Begging call
  • Bioacoustics distance
  • Brood parasite
  • Spectro-temporal modulation
  • Spectrogram alignment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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