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J Acoust Soc Am. 2009 Mar;125(3):1792-805. doi: 10.1121/1.3068453.

Asymmetries in the individual distinctiveness and maternal recognition of infant contact calls and distress screams in baboons.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada. d.rendall@uleth.ca


A key component of nonhuman primate vocal communication is the production and recognition of clear cues to social identity that function in the management of these species' individualistic social relationships. However, it remains unclear how ubiquitous such identity cues are across call types and age-sex classes and what the underlying vocal production mechanisms responsible might be. This study focused on two structurally distinct call types produced by infant baboons in contexts that place a similar functional premium on communicating clear cues to caller identity: (1) contact calls produced when physically separated from, and attempting to relocate, mothers and (2) distress screams produced when aggressively attacked by other group members. Acoustic analyses and field experiments were conducted to examine individual differentiation in single vocalizations of each type and to test mothers' ability to recognize infant calls. Both call types showed statistically significant individual differentiation, but the magnitude of the differentiation was substantially higher in contact calls. Mothers readily discriminated own-offspring contact calls from those of familiar but unrelated infants, but did not do so when it came to distress screams. Several possible explanations for these asymmetries in call differentiation and recognition are considered.

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