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Background: Models of honest advertisement predict that sexually selected calls should signal male quality. In most vertebrates, high quality males have larger body sizes that determine higher social status and in turn higher reproductive success. Previous research has emphasised the importance of vocal tract resonances or formant frequencies of calls as cues to body size in mammals. However, the role of the acoustic features of vocalisations as cues to other quality-related phenotypic characteristics of callers has rarely been investigated.

Methodology/Principal Findings: We examined whether the acoustic structure of fallow deer groans provides reliable information on the quality of the caller, by exploring the relationships between male quality (body size, dominance rank, and mating success) and the frequency components of calls (fundamental frequency, formant frequencies, and formant dispersion). We found that body size was not related to the fundamental frequency of groans, whereas larger males produced groans with lower formant frequencies and lower formant dispersion. Groans of high-ranking males were characterised by lower minimum fundamental frequencies and to a lesser extent, by lower formant dispersions. Dominance rank was the factor most strongly related to mating success, with higher-ranking males having higher mating success. The minimum fundamental frequency and the minimum formant dispersion were indirectly related to male mating success (through dominance rank).

Conclusion/Significance: Our study is the first to show that sexually selected vocalisations can signal social dominance in mammals other than primates, and reveals that independent acoustic components encode accurate information on different phenotypic aspects of male quality.