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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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