Many animals produce louder, longer or more repetitious vocalizations to compensate for increases in environmental noise. Biological costs of increased vocal effort in response to noise, including energetic costs, remain empirically undefined in many taxa, particularly in marine mammals that rely on sound for fundamental biological functions in increasingly noisy habitats. For this investigation, we tested the hypothesis that an increase in vocal effort would result in an energetic cost to the signaler by experimentally measuring oxygen consumption during rest and a two-min vocal period in dolphins that were trained to vary vocal loudness across trials. Vocal effort was quantified as the total acoustic energy of sounds produced. Metabolic rates (MRs) during the vocal period were, on average, 1.2× and 1.5× resting (RMR) in Dolphin A and B, respectively. As vocal effort increased, we found that there was a significant increase in metabolic rate over resting during the 2-min following sound production in both dolphins and in total oxygen consumption (metabolic cost of sound production plus recovery costs) in the dolphin that showed a wider range of vocal effort across trials. Increases in vocal effort, as a consequence of increases in vocal amplitude, repetition rate, and/or duration, are consistent with behavioral responses to noise in free-ranging animals. Here, we empirically demonstrate for the first time in a marine mammal, that these vocal modifications can have an energetic impact at the individual level and importantly, these data provide a mechanistic foundation for evaluating biological consequences of vocal modification in noise-polluted habitats.
- © 2015. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd