When identifying other individuals, animals may match current cues with stored information about that individual from the same sensory modality. Animals may also be able to combine current information with previously acquired information from other sensory modalities, indicating that they possess complex cognitive templates of individuals that are independent of modality. We investigated whether goats (Capra hircus) possess cross-modal representations (auditory–visual) of conspecifics. We presented subjects with recorded conspecific calls broadcast equidistant between two individuals, one of which was the caller. We found that, when presented with a stablemate and another herd member, goats looked towards the caller sooner and for longer than the noncaller, regardless of caller identity. By contrast, when choosing between two herd members, other than their stablemate, goats did not show a preference to look towards the caller. Goats show cross-modal recognition of close social partners, but not of less familiar herd members. Goats may employ inferential reasoning when identifying conspecifics, potentially facilitating individual identification based on incomplete information. Understanding the prevalence of cross-modal recognition and the degree to which different sensory modalities are integrated provides insight into how animals learn about other individuals, and the evolution of animal communication.
Pitcher BJ, Briefer EF, Baciadonna L, McElligott AG. 2017 Cross-modal recognition of familiar conspecifics in goats. R. Soc. open sci. 4: 160346. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsos.160346