Original Paper

Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 61, Issue 6, pp 899-909

First online:

Vocal alliances in Chacma baboons (Papio hamadryas ursinus)

  • Roman M. WittigAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, University of Pennsylvania Email author 
  • , Catherine CrockfordAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania
  • , Robert M. SeyfarthAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania
  • , Dorothy L. CheneyAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, University of Pennsylvania

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Theory predicts that females in species with matrilineal dominance hierarchies should use nepotistic support systems to maintain their family’s rank. Female Old World monkeys, however, form alliances against other females at surprisingly low rates. Nonetheless, in many species, females utter threat vocalizations when observing others’ disputes, suggesting that these vocalizations may function as ‘vocal alliances’. We describe a playback experiment testing the efficacy of vocal alliances in free-ranging female baboons. Subjects were played the same female’s threat-grunts under three separate conditions: after being threatened by the signaller’s close relative to mimic kin support, after being threatened by a female maternally unrelated to the signaller to mimic non-kin support, and after a friendly interaction with the signaller’s close relative as a control. Subjects responded more strongly to the playback and avoided the signaller and her matrilineal relatives for a longer period of time in kin support trials than in either non-kin support or no aggression trials. In contrast, there was no difference in subjects’ behaviour between non-kin support and no aggression trials. These results corroborate observational data showing that vocal support occurs at a higher rate than physical support in female baboons, and that kin are more likely to provide vocal support than non-kin. We conclude that vocal support plays a similar role as physical support in the alliances of female baboons.


Vocal support Alliance Relationship Female dominance Old World monkeys Baboons Socio-ecological model