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Vocal fold elasticity of the Rocky Mountain elk (Cervus elaphus nelsoni) – producing high fundamental frequency vocalization with a very long vocal fold
Tobias Riede, Ingo R. Titze


The vocal folds of male Rocky Mountain elk (Cervus elaphus nelsoni) are about 3 cm long. If fundamental frequency were to be predicted by a simple vibrating string formula, as is often done for the human larynx, such long vocal folds would bear enormous stress to produce the species-specific mating call with an average fundamental frequency of 1 kHz. Predictions would be closer to 50 Hz. Vocal fold histology revealed the presence of a large vocal ligament between the vocal fold epithelium and the thyroarytenoid muscle. In tensile tests, the stress–strain response of vocal fold epithelium and the vocal ligament were determined. Elasticity of both tissue structures reached quantitative values similar to human tissue. It seems unlikely that the longitudinal stress in elk vocal folds can exceed that in human vocal folds by an order of magnitude to overcome the drop in fundamental frequency due to a 3:1 increase in vocal fold length. Alternative hypotheses of how the elk produces high fundamental frequency utterances, despite its very long vocal fold, include a reduced effective vocal fold length in vibration, either due to bending properties along the vocal fold, or by actively moving the boundary point with muscle stiffening. The relationships between an individual's average fundamental frequency, vocal fold length and body size are discussed.

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