Exploring the potential use of seismic waves as a communication channel by elephants and other large mammals

C. E. O'Connell-Rodwell, Lynette A Hart, B. T. Arnason

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Bioseismic studies have previously documented the use of seismic stimuli as a method of communication in arthropods and small mammals. Seismic signals are used to communicate intraspecifically in many capacities such as mate finding, spacing, warning, resource assessing, and in group cohesion. Seismic signals are also used in interspecific mutualism and as a deterrent to predators. Although bioseismics is a significant mode of communication that is well documented for relatively small vertebrates, the potential for seismic communication has been all but ignored in large mammals. In this paper, we describe two modes of producing seismic waves with the potential for long distance transmission: 1) locomotion by animals causing percussion on the ground and 2) acoustic, seismicevoking sounds that couple with the ground. We present recordings of several mammals, including lions, rhinoceroses, and elephants, showing that they generate similar acoustic and seismic vibrations. These large animals that produce high amplitude vocalizations are the most likely to produce seismic vibrations that propagate long distances. The elephant seems to be the most likely candidate to engage in long distance seismic communication due to its size and its high amplitude, low frequency, relatively monotonie vocalizations that propagate in the ground and have the potential to travel long distances. We review particular anatomical features of the elephant that would facilitate the detection of seismic waves. We also assess low frequency sounds in the environment such as thunder and the likelihood of seismic transmission. In addition, we present the potential role of seismic stimuli in human communication as well as the impact of modern anthropogenic effects on the seismic environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1157-1170
Number of pages14
JournalAmerican Zoologist
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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