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J Acoust Soc Am. 2011 Mar;129(3):1631-41. doi: 10.1121/1.3531944.

Sources of acoustic variation: implications for production specificity and call categorization in chacma baboon (Papio ursinus) grunts.

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Department of Behavioral Biology, University of Bielefeld, Morgenbreede 45, 33615 Bielefeld, Germany.


Elucidating the information content of vocal signals is fundamental to the understanding of animal communication. Acoustically distinct calls produced in specific contexts allow listeners to predict future events and choose adequate responses. However, the vocal repertoires of most terrestrial mammals consist of a limited number of call types that vary within and between categories. These "graded signaling systems" are thought to be rich in information, at the cost of increasing uncertainty regarding call categorization. In this study, patterns of acoustic variation in grunts of wild chacma baboons (Papio ursinus) were assessed in relation to different contexts, callers' arousal, the presence of listeners, and individual identity. Although overall production specificity was low, and sensitive to the number of contexts under consideration, grunts given in three contexts could be statistically distinguished from each other. Contextual differences remained when controlling for caller arousal, suggesting that these differences cannot be explained by variation in arousal. No audience effect was detected, but individual identity was found to have an influence on acoustic structure. Overall, these results support the view that, in comparison to other signaling systems associated with hazardous conditions, lower production specificity might evolve under relaxed circumstances where unambiguous signaling is less important.

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