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Primates. 2004 Jan;45(1):41-57. Epub 2003 Dec 4.

Social communication in siamangs (Symphalangus syndactylus): use of gestures and facial expressions.

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Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Deutscher Platz 6, 04103 Leipzig, Germany.


The current study represents the first systematic investigation of the social communication of captive siamangs (Symphalangus syndactylus). The focus was on intentional signals, including tactile and visual gestures, as well as facial expressions and actions. Fourteen individuals from different groups were observed and the signals used by individuals were recorded. Thirty-one different signals, consisting of 12 tactile gestures, 8 visual gestures, 7 actions, and 4 facial expressions, were observed, with tactile gestures and facial expressions appearing most frequently. The range of the signal repertoire increased steadily until the age of six, but declined afterwards in adults. The proportions of the different signal categories used within communicative interactions, in particular actions and facial expressions, also varied depending on age. Group differences could be traced back mainly to social factors or housing conditions. Differences in the repertoire of males and females were most obvious in the sexual context. Overall, most signals were used flexibly, with the majority performed in three or more social contexts and almost one-third of signals used in combination with other signals. Siamangs also adjusted their signals appropriately for the recipient, for example, using visual signals most often when the recipient was already attending (audience effects). These observations are discussed in the context of siamang ecology, social structure, and cognition.

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