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Cartoon
Winter 2015

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Happy, quiet New Year!

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Primal pull of a baby crying reaches across species

There is something primal in a mother's response to a crying infant. So primal, in fact, that mother deer will rush protectively to the distress calls of other in­fant mammals, such as fur seals, marmots and even humans. This suggests such calls might share common elements – and perhaps that these animals experience similar emotions. Researchers – and, indeed, all pet owners – know that humans respond emotionally to the dis­tress cries of their domestic animals, and there is some evidence that dogs also respond to human cries. However, most people have assumed this is a by­product of domestication.

Now, Susan Lingle, a biologist at the University of Winnipeg, Canada, noticed that the infants of many mammal species have similar distress calls: simple sounds with few changes in pitch. She decided to test whether cross ­species responses occur more widely across the evolutionary tree.

So, Lingle and her colleague Tobias Riede, now at Midwestern University in Glendale, Arizona, recorded the calls made by infants from a variety of mammal species when separated from their mother or otherwise threatened. They then played the recordings through hidden speakers to wild mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) out on the Canadian prairies. They found that deer mothers quickly moved towards the recordings of infant deer, but also towards those of infant fur seals, dogs, cats and humans, all of which call at roughly the same pitch. Even the ultrasonic calls of infant bats attracted the deer mothers if Lingle used software to lower their pitch to match that of deer calls. In contrast, they found the deer did not respond to non ­infant calls such as birdsong or the bark of a coyote (American Naturalist, DOI: 10.1086/677677).

This implies that infant distress calls share some common element across a range of mammals – some of them separated by over 90 million years of evolution – and that many mammalian mothers are attuned to that common element, says Lingle. They are likely to have evolved to respond quickly, rather than carefully, to situations that threaten their offspring, she spec­ulates. "These are calls that are generally made in a life ­or­ death situation," she says. "I think the advantage of securing sur­vival for your offspring outweighs the potential for error."

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International Noise Awareness Day 20th anniversary

All over the world, people, organisations and governments will commemorate the 20th International Noise Awareness Day (INAD) on Wednesday, April 29, 2015. The Center for Hearing and Communication (CHC) founded this yearly event in 1996 to encourage people to do something about bothersome noise where they work, live and play. So far, the Noise Center heard from people fed up with noise who are planning INAD events in New York City to as far as Italy and Latvia. Individuals and communities no longer accept that noise is a natural by­product of an industrial society. For more information about this event go to the website




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