Multimodal mother-offspring recognition in the Australian sea lion (Neophoca cinerea)
thesisposted on 28.03.2022, 09:39 by Kaja Wierucka
Recognition plays an important role in animal communication systems and individuals often employ different sensory modalities to enact this activity. Although recognition has been widely investigated, especially for mother-offspring interactions, there is a dearth of information about multimodal recognition and the relative importance and interactions of various sensory cues. In this thesis, I explored multimodal communication in a colonial mammal - the Australian sea lion (Neophoca cinerea). Communication during mother-pup reunions is known to be multimodal in this species, yet the underlying processes of olfactory and visual recognition, as well as the interactions between acoustic, visual and olfactory cues remain unclear. Through chemical analyses, I determined whether chemical profiles differ among sex and age classes, colonies, and body regions of animals. Chemical similarities between mothers and pups indicate that phenotype matching may be used by Australian sea lions for olfactory recognition. I examined the role of visual cues in mother-pup recognition and found that age-specific visual cues assist mothers to refine their search for their offspring in the colony. Pups are capable of distinguishing various visual cues that can be used in the assessment of conspecifics. Having provided baseline information about the role of sensory cues in isolation, I determined how acoustic, olfactory, and visual cues are used in a synergistic way to ensure accurate mutual recognition and then interpreted the results using a cost-benefit perspective to disentangle the evolutionary pressures on each component of this communication system. I showed that although cues have the ability to convey given information in isolation, their role may be different when other sensory cues are present. Furthermore, there is a mutual dependency in the communication system, where the limitations imposed on one participant of the dyad affect cue use by the other. These findings contribute to a better understanding of mammal mother-offspring recognition and communication mechanisms in vertebrates.