, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp 183-190

The significance of call duration in howler monkeys

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Abstract

The “loud” calls of forest primates consist of repeated sounds that elicit a response from other members of the species. Recent studies suggest that these calls are often displays by the males that permit them to assess the strength of their opponents. Previous research on red howler monkeys supported the hypothesis that howling functions in assessment of competing individuals, as an alternative to energetically expensive chases and fights. As the second step in the attempt to understand the evolution of howling in genus Alouatta,one aspect—call duration — was compared in two species,the mantled howler (Alouatta palliata)and the red howler (A. seniculus).In A. palliatathe median howl duration was 3.5 sec and the interhowl interval was 20.0 sec, while in A. seniculusthe median howl duration was 19.0 sec and the interhowl interval was 3.0 sec. During the dawn chorus, the total duration of calling in A. seniculusmay be 10 or more times greater than that in A. palliata.The latter species appears to be limited in the duration of howls it can produce, so it increases the amount of calling by reducing the interhowl interval. At least four factors may be important in the evolution of the observed differences in call structure: constraints of the acoustic environment, alternate forms of display used by A. palliata,the presence or absence of competing males within the troop, and the effect of female calls on male howling. The observations suggest that the use of the male loud call may reflect differences in the nature of male-male competition and female support more than it reflects the constraints of the acoustic environment.