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Communication and movement dynamics in spotted hyenas

With: Andy Gersick, Frants Jensen, & Kay Holekamp

Spotted hyenas live in fission-fusion societies, where clan members move alone or in small subgroups that split and merge over time. Despite being widely dispersed over several kilometers, hyenas can come together rapidly for collective defense of prey items against lions, or in conflicts with neighboring clans. They accomplish this rapid convergence through long-distance recruitment calls known as "whoops". In this work, my collaborators and I are investigating how communication and coordination interact in these dispersed animal societies, using collars that simultaneously track the positions, vocalizations, and activity patterns of hyenas within a clan. We are interested in how information is transmitted over long distances in these groups, how hyenas decide whether or not to respond to recruitment calls, and how such communication impacts their long-term movement dynamics.

This project is in collaboration with the MSU-Mara Hyena Project, and has just gotten underway! We recently fitted 6 adult female hyenas with collars that record their positions once per second using GPS, their vocalizations using an audio recorder, and their activities using an accelerometer. We are also performing playback experiments to test whether hyenas respond more strongly to calls from individuals in their own clan, as compared to calls from members of a neighboring clan or calls from strangers. 

We are just getting our first data back from the field. Below is a  visualization of six days of GPS data from a single collared hyena (each color represents a different day). At the top left, a hyena with a collar is shown. At the bottom left, you can see a specrogram of a long-distance recruitment ("whoop") call given by a hyena.

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