Age and social affinity effects on contact call interactions in free-ranging spider monkeys

  • M. Briseno-JaramilloEmail author
  • G. Ramos-Fernández
  • T. M. Palacios-Romo
  • J. R. Sosa-López
  • A. Lemasson
Original Article
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. An evolutionary perspective on the development of primate sociality


Nonhuman primates’ vocal repertoire has shown little plasticity, with immatures producing adult-like acoustic structures. Yet, the use of different call types shows a degree of socially dependent flexibility during development. In several nonhuman primate species, group members exchange contact calls respecting a set of social and temporal rules that may be learned (e.g., overlap avoidance, turn-taking, social selection of interacting partners, and call type matching). Here, we study the use of contact calls in free-living adult and immature (old and young) spider monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi). We focused our study in two contact call types of the species’ repertoire: whinnies and high-whinnies. Our results suggest that individuals in all age classes produced both call types, with immatures producing less frequently the whinny call type. Immature individuals exchanged calls less often than adults, although their contribution increased with age. Conversely, mature individuals regulated their emissions by (1) exchanging more calls with their preferred affiliative partner and (2) matching the call type, while immatures did not. Our results show that contact call usage changes during development and suggest that adult rules might be learned. We argue that call matching is a “conversational rule” that young individuals acquire with apparent call-type-dependent variations during development. Our findings support the idea that social factors influence vocal development in nonhuman primates.

Significance statement

We studied the social rules underlying vocal interaction patterns in free-ranging spider monkeys. We found that, while both immature (old and young) and mature individuals were able to produce the two species contact call types, they differed strongly in the way they used them. Matures called more often and exchanged more, while the vocal response rates of immature individuals increased with age. Also, mature individuals exchanged preferentially with their close associates and matched their call types while immatures did not. As in other species, we predict that these exchange patterns serve as a social rule to maintain and strengthen social bonds between individuals. We discuss our findings in light of the probable role of social learning during acquisition of the appropriate context of calling and of the response to others’ calls. These findings support the idea that social influences guide vocal development in nonhuman primates.


Acoustic matching Call exchanges New World monkeys Vocal communication Vocal learning 



We thank the Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas of Mexico (CONANP) and the Environmental agency of Mexico (Dirección General de Vida Silvestre, SEMARNAT) for the permission we received to work at the Otoch Ma’ax Yetel Kooh reserve. We are grateful to the staff members of the Centro Interdisciplinario de Investigación para el Desarrollo Integral Regional Unidad Oaxaca, Instituto Politécnico Nacional and of the Animal and Human Ethology Laboratory for their support with the logistics.

We thank Filippo Aureli, Colleen M. Schaffner and Laura G. Vick for sharing the management of the long-term project at Punta Laguna. We are also very grateful to the field assistants Augusto, Eulogio and Macedonio Canul and to Veronique Biquand for their statistic support. We are very grateful to Federica Amici and Anja Widdig for their invitation to the special issue “An evolutionary perspective on the development of primate sociality”, and to Anja Widdig and two anonymous reviewers for their very constructive comments that helped to improve the manuscript.


Our research was supported by grants from Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (CONACYT) through a chair fellowship granted to JRSL at CIIDIR (researcher number 1640; project number 1781). MBJ received a postdoctoral fellowship from CONACYT (scholar number 220762), and GRF an Exploration Grant from National Geographic (WW-R008-17).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving animals were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institution or practice at which the studies were conducted. Our study adhered to the legal requirements for field observations of animals in Mexico. Protocols were approved by the Direccion General de Vida Silvestre (SEMARNAT, permit #SGPA/DGVS/1405/15). The Direccion General de Vida Silvestre is a subdivision of the Mexican government that oversees the ethical treatment of wildlife and only authorizes studies where data is collected according to this treatment.


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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. Briseno-Jaramillo
    • 1
    Email author
  • G. Ramos-Fernández
    • 2
    • 3
  • T. M. Palacios-Romo
    • 1
  • J. R. Sosa-López
    • 1
  • A. Lemasson
    • 4
  1. 1.CONACYT-Centro Interdisciplinario de Investigación para el Desarrollo Integral Regional Unidad Oaxaca (CIIDIR)Instituto Politécnico NacionalOaxacaMexico
  2. 2.Instituto de Investigaciones en Matemáticas Aplicadas y en SistemasUniversidad Nacional Autónoma de MéxicoMexico CityMexico
  3. 3.Unidad Profesional Interdisciplinaria en Ingeniería y Tecnologías AvanzadasInstituto Politécnico NacionalMexico CityMexico
  4. 4.Univ Rennes, Ethologie Animale et Humaine, PaimpontPaimpontFrance

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