Arik Kershenbaum, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Daniel T. Blumstein, University of California, Los Angeles
Marie A. Roch, San Diego State University
Çağlar Akçay, Cornell University
Gregory Backus, North Carolina State University
Mark A. Bee, University of Minnesota, Falcon Heights
Kirsten Bohn, Florida International University, Miami
Yan Cao, University of Texas at Dallas
Gerald Carter, University of Maryland at College Park
Cristiane Cäsar, University of St Andrews
Michael Coen, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Stacy L. DeRuiter, University of St Andrews
Laurance Doyle, SETI Institute, Mountain View
Shimon Edelman, Cornell University
Ramon Ferreri Cancho, Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya, Barcelona
Todd M. Freeberg, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Ellen C. Garland, National Marine Mammal Laboratory, AFSC/NOAA, Seattle
Morgan Gustison, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Heidi E. Harley, New College of Florida, Sarasota
Chloé Huetz, Université Paris-Sud, Orsay
Melissa Hughes, College of Charleston, Charleston
Julia Hyland Bruno, The City University of New York, New York
Amiyaal Ilany, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Dezhe Z. Jin, Pennsylvania State University, University Park
Michael T. Johnson, Marquette UniversityFollow
Chenghui Ju, The City University of New York, Flushing
Jeremy Karnowski, University of California San Diego, La Jolla
Bernard Lohr, University of Maryland Baltimore County, Baltimore
Marta B. Manser, University of Zurich, Zurich
Brenda McCowan, University of California Davis, Davis
Eduardo Mercado III, The State University of New York, Buffalo
Peter M. Narins, University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles
Alex Piel, University of Cambridge, Cambridge
Megan Rice, California State University San Marcos, San Marcos
Roberta Salmi, University of Georgia at Athens, Athens
Kazutoshi Sasahara, Nagoya University, Nagoya
Laela Sayigh, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole
Yu Shiu, Cornell University, Ithaca
Charles Taylor, University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles
Edgar E. Vallejo, Monterrey Institute of Technology, Monterrey
Sara Waller, Montana State University, Bozeman
Veronica Zamora Gutierrez, University of Cambridge, Cambridge

Document Type




Format of Original

40 p.

Publication Date




Source Publication

Biological Reviews

Source ISSN


Original Item ID

Shelves: QH 301 .C243 2016 v. 91, Memorial Periodicals; doi: 10.1111/brv.12160 PubMed Central: PMC4444413


Animal acoustic communication often takes the form of complex sequences, made up of multiple distinct acoustic units. Apart from the well-known example of birdsong, other animals such as insects, amphibians, and mammals (including bats, rodents, primates, and cetaceans) also generate complex acoustic sequences. Occasionally, such as with birdsong, the adaptive role of these sequences seems clear (e.g. mate attraction and territorial defence). More often however, researchers have only begun to characterise – let alone understand – the significance and meaning of acoustic sequences. Hypotheses abound, but there is little agreement as to how sequences should be defined and analysed. Our review aims to outline suitable methods for testing these hypotheses, and to describe the major limitations to our current and near-future knowledge on questions of acoustic sequences. This review and prospectus is the result of a collaborative effort between 43 scientists from the fields of animal behaviour, ecology and evolution, signal processing, machine learning, quantitative linguistics, and information theory, who gathered for a 2013 workshop entitled, ‘Analysing vocal sequences in animals’. Our goal is to present not just a review of the state of the art, but to propose a methodological framework that summarises what we suggest are the best practices for research in this field, across taxa and across disciplines. We also provide a tutorial-style introduction to some of the most promising algorithmic approaches for analysing sequences. We divide our review into three sections: identifying the distinct units of an acoustic sequence, describing the different ways that information can be contained within a sequence, and analysing the structure of that sequence. Each of these sections is further subdivided to address the key questions and approaches in that area. We propose a uniform, systematic, and comprehensive approach to studying sequences, with the goal of clarifying research terms used in different fields, and facilitating collaboration and comparative studies. Allowing greater interdisciplinary collaboration will facilitate the investigation of many important questions in the evolution of communication and sociality.


Accepted version. Biological Reviews, Vol. 91, No. 1 (February 2016): 13-52. DOI. © Wiley 2016. Used with permission.