WASHINGTON (Feb. 18, 2004)—When is peak time for elephants to make long-distance calls? In the cool, calm hours between dusk and dawn, according to Michael Garstang, a meteorologist at the University of Virginia.
Garstang, a National Geographic Society grantee, has researched how atmospheric conditions affect long-range, low-frequency communication for several years, and an account of his recent study into elephant calls in Namibia is the subject of a Field Dispatch in the March 2004 issue of National Geographic magazine.
The link between weather and sound has long intrigued Garstang. Curious as to whether elephants communicating with each other waste energy bellowing against the wind or whether they take advantage of atmospheric changes that can boost bass tones, he and a team of researchers headed to Namibia’s Etosha National Park. For three weeks, they recorded more than 1,300 elephant calls and the atmospheric conditions in which they were made.
They found that 96 percent of the calls occurred between dusk and dawn, when temperatures dropped below 40 F and the air was almost still. The greatest number of calls happened from an hour before sunset to three hours after, with another talkative period in the first two hours after sunrise.
Cool, calm air creates an optimum channel for infrasound, with elephant calls able to be heard over an area of at least 110 square miles, compared to less than one square mile when wind gusts and turbulence caused by shimmering heat tend to break up sound waves. The early morning and early evening peaks in calls support the idea that elephants have adapted their behavior to match patterns of change in the atmosphere. “Elephants talk most when conditions are best,” says Garstang.
Garstang’s work is supported by National Geographic’s Committee for Research and Exploration. At any given moment, hundreds of National Geographic research grantees are conducting work in field locations around the globe. Research, exploration and conservation are as much a part of the tradition of the National Geographic Society as the yellow-bordered magazine that documents them.
In an effort to continue bringing this research and its results to readers, National Geographic magazine created the Field Dispatch feature, which provides a snapshot of a particular scientist and research project funded by National Geographic.
“Field Dispatches are designed to transport our readers into the field with the scientists,” said Bill Allen, editor-in-chief of National Geographic magazine. “These mini-portraits highlight the essence of field research — the personalities involved, the remote locations and the excitement of discovery.”
Since 1890 the Committee for Research and Exploration has funded more than 7,000 research projects, including expeditions that led to the discovery of numerous new dinosaur species, spectacular Inca sacrificial mummies atop peaks in Peru and Argentina, and insights into the behavior of animals in the wild.
For additional information on research grant applications, log on to http://www.nationalgeographic.com/research.
NOTE: An electronic image from the “Calls in the Wild” Field Dispatch is available from Christopher Pollock, National Geographic Communications picture editor, at 202-857-7760 or firstname.lastname@example.org.