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Kohonen self-organizing neural networks, also called self-organizing maps (SOMs), have been used successfully to recognize human phonemes and in this way to aid in human speech recognition. This paper describes how SOMS also can be used to associate specific information content with animal vocalizations. A SOM was used to identify acoustic units in Gunnison’s prairie dog alarm calls that were vocalized in the presence of three different predator species. Some of these acoustic units and their combinations were found exclusively in the alarm calls associated with a particular predator species and were used to associate predator species information with individual alarm calls. This methodology allowed individual alarm calls to be classified by predator species with an average of 91% accuracy. Furthermore, the topological structure of the SOM used in these experiments provided additional insights about the acoustic units and their combinations that were used to classify the target alarm calls. An important benefit of the methodology developed in this paper is that it could be used to search for groups of sounds associated with information content for any animal whose vocalizations are composed of multiple simultaneous frequency components.


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