, Volume 67, Issue 6, pp 947-961
Date: 07 Apr 2013

Loud calls as a mechanism of social coordination in a fission–fusion taxon, the white-bellied spider monkey (Ateles belzebuth)

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Abstract

Spider monkeys (Ateles spp.) live in social groups that exhibit high levels of fission–fusion dynamics, in which group members form subgroups of varying sizes and compositions. Within these fluid societies, how individuals establish contact with dispersed group members with whom they might choose to associate remains unclear. Long-range vocalizations might facilitate interactions between group members and provide a means of social coordination in fission–fusion societies. We evaluated this possibility for one spider monkey vocalization, the loud call, by examining calling behavior, the relationship between loud calls and changes in subgroup size, and the response of individuals to distant calls and playback experiments in a single study group. We found that 82 % of loud calls were emitted within 30 min of a call from a different location, suggesting that individuals frequently emit loud calls in response to the calls of distant group members. Subgroups that emitted loud calls, especially those that responded to distant calls, were much more likely to experience an increase in subgroup size within an hour after calling than those that did not. Animals also approached distant loud calls more than they avoided or ignored these calls. Finally, playbacks of male calls demonstrated that females respond preferentially to the calls of some individuals over others. Taken together, these results provide support for the hypothesis that spider monkey loud calls function to facilitate and initiate interactions between dispersed group members and suggest that vocal signals can play an important role in influencing social interactions in fission–fusion societies.

Communicated by C.L. Nunn