The Voices of Nature: How and Why Animals Communicate

Princeton Univ. Jun. 2023. 376p. ISBN 9780691236759. $32. SCI
Mathevon’s (neurosciences and animal behavior, University of Lyon/Saint-Étienne) first book delves into the world of animal sounds and asks two questions: can animals express emotions, and do animals have language? The result is a fascinating look at why, for instance, birds sing (to attract a partner and repel competitors). Mathevon examines the actual elements of bird songs, the variations of a horse’s neigh, termite vibrations, the vocalizations of hyenas, the impact of vibration on coral reefs, and the sounds of penguins, walruses, and crocodiles. There’s a QR code that links to samples of the sounds discussed within the book, making this an interactive reading experience. The breadth of research is impressive, as is the direct language used to express the complicated science behind sound itself. The author is full of optimism for the growth of research within the field, especially surrounding ultrasound waves, and the use of bioacoustics to measure biodiversity and assess the condition of an ecosystem might propel scientists toward solutions for changing climates.
VERDICT Exceptional. Sounds may not leave a fossil record, but Mathevon’s research will.
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