Evolution of vocalization – spectrum of science

We take it for granted that almost every living space is filled with the sounds of animals: from the moving whale songs in the sea to the exuberant concerts of birds, frogs and insects in the forest to the roaring noise of people and their technical devices in the city. But for most of our planet’s history, only the sonic events of inanimate nature sounded like the roar of waves, wind, and rain, punctuated by the occasional clap of thunder.

As a paleontologist, I’m trying to understand how extinct animals lived: how did they move, what did they eat, or what sounds might they make? In addition, I am consulted as a consultant for exhibitions, TV series, movies or computer games when it comes to animation and design of living beings. Animal sounds are one of the most common challenges I encounter in projects like this. Whether someone is reconstructing long-extinct pterosaurs for scientific study or designing a creature for a box office hit, sound is essential to bringing past or imaginary worlds to life.

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Recent insights into the evolution of sound phenomena in animals have led to a new understanding of how the soundscape of life arose. Fossils tell us when the basic types of sound-producing and sound-perceiving structures first appeared in the ancestors of modern-day invertebrates and vertebrates. In some cases, scientists have even succeeded in recreating the sounds of these primeval animals through clever modelling. Although many details remain unexplored, we can finally put the puzzle of noise generation together…

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