Studying Elephant Communication | HHMI BioInteractive Video

Studying Elephant Communication | HHMI BioInteractive Video

Elephants can communicate over long distances using low-frequency sounds that travel both in the air and through the ground. Scientists are studying whether elephants can “hear” and interpret these ground vibrations.

For decades, ecologist Caitlin O’Connell-Rodwell has been studying elephant communication in Etosha National Park in northern Namibia. A research associate at Stanford University School of Medicine, O’Connell-Rodwell observed that elephants seem to detect vibrations in the ground with their feet and trunk. In this video, we follow O’Connell-Rodwell as she investigates whether elephants can detect and interpret other elephants’ calls through the ground. Using amplifiers, speakers, geophones and video cameras, she designs an experiment to test how elephant herds respond to an alarm call that elephants produce to warn others of nearby predators, when it is played back through the ground.

The video could be used when studying animal communication.  It provides students with the opportunity to learn about

• how experiments are designed to test a hypothesis; and
• how individuals can act on information and communicate it to others.

There is an opportunity for students to analyze and interpret a graph at time 4:40 min. in the video.

This video is based on the following research study: O’Connell-Rodwell, C. E., et al. Wild elephant (Loxodonta africana) breeding herds respond to artificially transmitted seismic stimuli. 2006. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, April 2006, Volume 59, Issue 6, pp 842–850.


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