Stiftung Tierärztliche Hochschule Hannover (TiHo)TiHo eLib

Pups of Mongolian gerbils encode arousal and development state in their vocalizations: a further tool to improve laboratory welfare

Using vocalizations pups can signal their emotional and developmental state to their caregivers. This information can be used for bioacoustic monitoring of animal welfare and health in laboratory animals. In this study, we investigate how arousal, developmental state, identity and sex are encoded in pup calls of Mongolian gerbils.

Vocalizations of 28 pups were recorded in two experimental contexts suggested to induce different arousal states. In the low arousal context, a single pup was placed in an arena isolated from its family. In the high arousal context, a single pup was additionally stressed by simulating a predator. Using an unsupervised cluster analysis three distinct call types were defined: ultrasonic (USV), audible calls (ADV) and transitions between both (USV-ADV), for which spectro-temporal parameters were measured.

USVs were produced in both arousal states, while ADV and USV-ADVs were produced mainly in the high arousal condition. USVs and USV-ADVs decreased while ADVs increased with age. Body weight and age correlated with spectro-temporal parameters but showed different patterns for USVs and ADVs. Both call types were individually distinct but acoustic parameters were differently affected by sex, which might indicate the development of sex-specific functions. Our results show that acoustic cues can be used to track arousal and development in rodent pups. Thereby, sex specific vocal patterns were already present before weaning. All in all, vocalizations can be used to monitor the emotional, developmental and sexual state of laboratory animals at early age and thereby can help to improve welfare.

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