Document Type




First Advisor's Name

Douglas Wartzok

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Maureen Donnelly

Second Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Third Advisor's Name

Michael Heithaus

Third Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Fourth Advisor's Name

Timothy M. Collins

Fourth Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Fifth Advisor's Name

Zhenmin Chen

Fifth Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member


Evolution, Behavior, Acoustics, Sociality, Tonal Sounds, Whistles

Date of Defense



Cetaceans are aquatic mammals that rely primarily on sound for most daily tasks. A compendium of sounds is emitted for orientation, prey detection, and predator avoidance, and to communicate. Communicative sounds are among the most studied Cetacean signals, particularly those referred to as tonal sounds. Because tonal sounds have been studied especially well in social dolphins, it has been assumed these sounds evolved as a social adaptation. However, whistles have been reported in ‘solitary’ species and have been secondarily lost three times in social lineages. Clearly, therefore, it is necessary to examine closely the association, if any, between whistles and sociality instead of merely assuming it. Several hypotheses have been proposed to explain the evolutionary history of Cetacean tonal sounds. The main goal of this dissertation is to cast light on the evolutionary history of tonal sounds by testing these hypotheses by combining comparative phylogenetic and field methods. This dissertation provides the first species-level phylogeny of Cetacea and phylogenetic tests of evolutionary hypotheses of cetacean communicative signals. Tonal sounds evolution is complex in that has likely been shaped by a combination of factors that may influence different aspects of their acoustical structure. At the inter-specific level, these results suggest that only tonal sound minimum frequency is constrained by body size. Group size also influences tonal sound minimum frequency. Species that live in large groups tend to produce higher frequency tonal sounds. The evolutionary history of tonal sounds and sociality may be intertwined, but in a complex manner rejecting simplistic views such as the hypothesis that tonal sounds evolved ‘for’ social communication in dolphins. Levels of social and tonal sound complexity nevertheless correlate indicating the importance of tonal sounds in social communication. At the intraspecific level, tonal sound variation in frequency and temporal parameters may be product of genetic isolation and local levels of underwater noise. This dissertation provides one of the first insights into the evolution of Cetacean tonal sounds in a phylogenetic context, and points out key species where future studies would be valuable to enrich our understanding of other factors also playing a role in tonal sound evolution.





Rights Statement

Rights Statement

In Copyright. URI:
This Item is protected by copyright and/or related rights. You are free to use this Item in any way that is permitted by the copyright and related rights legislation that applies to your use. For other uses you need to obtain permission from the rights-holder(s).