Rodent pups vocalize when placed in social isolation. We apply a method of “joint calls” for examining discomfort in rodent pup ultrasonic (>20 kHz) calls. Previously, this method has been developed for audible calls of fur farm mammals. Using a repeated measures design to exclude effects of individual identity and age on the analysed variables, we compared the ultrasonic call variables produced by 8–40-day pups of fat-tailed gerbils Pachyuromys duprasi during two subsequent experimental stages, the Isolation Stage and the Handling Stage. We considered that discomfort-related negative emotional arousal increased towards the Handling Stage compared to the Isolation Stage because of cumulative effects of handling and time of pup isolation from the nest. At the Isolation Stage, the call rate (calls/s) was higher from 10 to 18 days of age, whereas both the maximum amplitude frequency and power quartiles of joint calls were lower than at the Handling Stage from 20 to 32 days of age. At the same time, in audible (<20 kHz) vocalizations of a wide range of mammalian species, both the higher call rate and the upward shift of the maximum amplitude frequency and power quartiles indicate the discomfort-related increase of negative emotional arousal. We discuss the advantages of the method of joint calls for express-analyses of power variables for large sequences of ultrasonic vocalizations of complex acoustic structure during experimental trials.
Acoustic communication, isolation calls, handling, ontogeny, emotional arousal, rodent