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Front Zool. 2013 Sep 23;10(1):58. doi: 10.1186/1742-9994-10-58.

Vocal communication in a complex multi-level society: constrained acoustic structure and flexible call usage in Guinea baboons.

Author information

1
Cognitive Ethology Laboratory, German Primate Center, Kellnerweg 4, 37077, Göttingen, Germany. PMaciej@dpz.eu.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

To understand the evolution of acoustic communication in animals, it is important to distinguish between the structure and the usage of vocal signals, since both aspects are subject to different constraints. In terrestrial mammals, the structure of calls is largely innate, while individuals have a greater ability to actively initiate or withhold calls. In closely related taxa, one would therefore predict a higher flexibility in call usage compared to call structure. In the present study, we investigated the vocal repertoire of free living Guinea baboons (Papio papio) and examined the structure and usage of the animals' vocal signals. Guinea baboons live in a complex multi-level social organization and exhibit a largely tolerant and affiliative social style, contrary to most other baboon taxa. To classify the vocal repertoire of male and female Guinea baboons, cluster analyses were used and focal observations were conducted to assess the usage of vocal signals in the particular contexts.

RESULTS:

In general, the vocal repertoire of Guinea baboons largely corresponded to the vocal repertoire other baboon taxa. The usage of calls, however, differed considerably from other baboon taxa and corresponded with the specific characteristics of the Guinea baboons' social behaviour. While Guinea baboons showed a diminished usage of contest and display vocalizations (a common pattern observed in chacma baboons), they frequently used vocal signals during affiliative and greeting interactions.

CONCLUSIONS:

Our study shows that the call structure of primates is largely unaffected by the species' social system (including grouping patterns and social interactions), while the usage of calls can be more flexibly adjusted, reflecting the quality of social interactions of the individuals. Our results support the view that the primary function of social signals is to regulate social interactions, and therefore the degree of competition and cooperation may be more important to explain variation in call usage than grouping patterns or group size.

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