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Background: Ultrasonic vocalizations (USVs) emitted by muroid rodents, including laboratory mice and rats, are used as phenotypic markers in behavioral assays and biomedical research. Interpretation of these USVs depends on understanding the significance of USV production by rodents in the wild. However, there has never been a study of muroid rodent ultrasound function in the wild and comparisons of USVs produced by wild and laboratory rodents are lacking to date. Here, we report the first comparison of wild and captive rodent USVs recorded from the same species, Peromyscus californicus.

Methodology and Principal Findings: We used standard ultrasound recording techniques to measure USVs from California mice in the laboratory (Peromyscus Genetic Stock Center, SC, USA) and the wild (Hastings Natural History Reserve, CA, USA). To determine which California mouse in the wild was vocalizing, we used a remote sensing method that used a 12- microphone acoustic localization array coupled with automated radio telemetry of all resident Peromyscus californicus in the area of the acoustic localization array. California mice in the laboratory and the wild produced the same types of USV motifs. However, wild California mice produced USVs that were 2–8 kHz higher in median frequency and significantly more variable in frequency than laboratory California mice.

Significance: The similarity in overall form of USVs from wild and laboratory California mice demonstrates that production of USVs by captive Peromyscus is not an artifact of captivity. Our study validates the widespread use of USVs in laboratory rodents as behavioral indicators but highlights that particular characteristics of laboratory USVs may not reflect natural conditions.


Author Contributions are as follows: MCKR conceived and designed the experiments. MCKR, RP, JB, CC, and OR performed the experiments. MCKR, RP, JB, CC, MMM, JTW, and OR analyzed the data. MCKR, JTW, OR, DR, and JPC contributed reagents/material/analysis tools. MCKR, RP, JB, CC, MMM, JTW, and OR wrote the paper. DR contributed all data for mensural characters of wild Peromyscus californicusthat he has collected at the Hastings Natural History Reserve. JPC facilitated work at the Peromyscus Genetic Stock Center. JPC contributed all data for mensural characters of laboratory Peromyscus californicus.


Karen McComb




Public Library of Science

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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