Dingoes (genus Canis) produce a stereotyped bark-howl vocalisation, which is a unimodal complex signal formed by the concatenation of two call types (a bark and a howl). Bark-howls may function as alarm signals, although there has been no empirical investigation of this vocalisation's structure or function. We quantified the content and efficacy of the bark and howl segments separately and when combined, using 140 calls from 10 individuals. We found that both segments are individually distinctive, although howl segments are more accurately classified, suggesting a higher level of individuality. Furthermore, howls convey signature characteristics that are conserved across different contexts of production, and thus may act as ‘identity signals’. The individual distinctiveness of full bark-howls increases above that of isolated segments, which may be a result of selection on improved signal discriminability. Propagation tests revealed that bark-howls are best described as medium-range signals, with both segments potentially allowing for individual discrimination up to 200 m regardless of environmental conditions. We discuss our findings regarding the fitness benefits of encoding identity cues in a potential alarm call and propose additional hypotheses for the function(s) of bark and howl segments.
- Complex signal