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(Color online) Results of playback experiments, each measured with three response assays: (a) maximum behavioral response; (b) total number of calls; and (c) maximum taxis (movement toward or away) in meters. Box plots used for the ordinal assay (behavioral response) show medians (thick line), 25th to 75th percentile (box), maximum/minimum values excluding outliers (whiskers), and outliers (circles). Bar graphs show means ±1 standard error. An asterisk or NS indicates a significant difference (p < 0.05) or no significant difference respectively. Playback conditions include Subordinate males (relative to the male whose calls were broadcast; in blue), Dominant males (higher in status; clear), S or s (very or slightly subordinate; see text for details), D or d (very or slightly dominant), and calls from Strange or Familiar α males.
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Vocal recognition was tested in a socially dynamic context where many individuals interact: the female defense polygyny practiced by male northern elephant seals. The goal was to tease apart whether animals recognize other individuals or instead use a simple rule-based category (i.e., relative dominance rank). A total of 67 playback experiments conducted with 18 males at Año Nuevo State Reserve, California, tested three aspects of recognition: (1) recognition of relative rank; (2) whether such recognition was continuous or categorical; and (3) recognition of familiarity. Results indicate that males recognize familiar individuals although responses are primarily based on relative dominance rank.
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