A mechanism for punctuating equilibria during mammalian vocal development

Thiago T. Varella, Yisi Zhang, Daniel Y. Takahashi, Asif A. Ghazanfar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Evolution and development are typically characterized as the outcomes of gradual changes, but sometimes such changes are abrupt: States of equilibrium can be punctuated by sudden change. Here, we studied the early vocal development of three different mammals: common marmoset monkeys, Egyptian fruit bats, and humans. Consistent with the notion of punctuated equilibria, we found that all three species undergo at least one sudden transition in the acoustics of their developing vocalizations. To understand the mechanism, we modeled different developmental landscapes. We found that the transition was best described as a shift in the balance of two vocalization landscapes. We show that the natural dynamics of these two landscapes are consistent with the dynamics of energy expenditure and information transmission. By using them as constraints for each species, we predicted the differences in transition timing from immature to mature vocalizations. Using marmoset monkeys, we were able to manipulate both infant energy expenditure (vocalizing in an environment with lighter air) and information transmission (closed-loop contingent parental vocal playback). These experiments support the importance of energy and information in leading to punctuated equilibrium states of vocal development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1010173
JournalPLoS computational biology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Genetics
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Molecular Biology
  • Ecology
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics
  • Modeling and Simulation


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