Proc. R. Soc. B.2882021077420210774 http://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2021.0774
Abstract African elephants (Loxodonta africana) use many sensory modes to gather information about their environment, including the detection of seismic, or ground-based, vibrations. Seismic information is known to include elephant-generated signals, but also potentially encompasses biotic cues that are commonly referred to as ‘noise’. To investigate seismic information transfer in elephants beyond communication, here we tested the hypothesis that wild elephants detect and discriminate between seismic vibrations that differ in their noise types, whether elephant- or human-generated. We played three types of seismic vibrations to elephants: seismic recordings of elephants (elephant-generated), white noise (human-generated) and a combined track (elephant- and human-generated). We found evidence of both detection of seismic noise and discrimination between the two treatments containing human-generated noise. In particular, we found evidence of retreat behaviour, where seismic tracks with human-generated noise caused elephants to move further away from the trial location. We conclude that seismic noise are cues that contain biologically relevant information for elephants that they can associate with risk. This expands our understanding of how elephants use seismic information, with implications for elephant sensory ecology and conservation management.