Elucidating the structure and function of joint vocal displays (e.g. duet, chorus) recorded with a conventional microphone has proved difficult in some animals owing to the complex acoustic properties of the combined signal, a problem reminiscent of multi-speaker conversations in humans. Towards this goal, we set out to simultaneously compare air-transmitted (AT) with radio-transmitted (RT) vocalizations in one pair of humans and one pair of captive Bolivian grey titi monkeys (Plecturocebus donacophilus) all equipped with an accelerometer – or vibration transducer – closely apposed to the larynx. First, we observed no crosstalk between the two radio transmitters when subjects produced vocalizations at the same time close to each other. Second, compared with AT acoustic recordings, sound segmentation and pitch tracking of the RT signal was more accurate, particularly in a noisy and reverberating environment. Third, RT signals were less noisy than AT signals and displayed more stable amplitude regardless of distance, orientation and environment of the animal. The microphone outperformed the accelerometer with respect to sound spectral bandwidth and speech intelligibility: the sounds of RT speech were more attenuated and dampened as compared to AT speech. Importantly, we show that vocal telemetry allows reliable separation of the subjects’ voices during production of joint vocalizations, which has great potential for future applications of this technique with free-ranging animals.
Plecturocebus, biotelemetry, laryngophone, overlapping speech, duet, titi monkeys