Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 61, Issue 6, pp 899–909 | Cite as

Vocal alliances in Chacma baboons (Papio hamadryas ursinus)

  • Roman M. WittigEmail author
  • Catherine Crockford
  • Robert M. Seyfarth
  • Dorothy L. Cheney
Original Paper


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 



We thank the Office of the President and the Department of Wildlife and National Parks of the Republic of Botswana for permission to conduct this research. Alec Mokopi, Mokopi Mokopi, and Eva Wikberg provided invaluable assistance in the field with data collection and with conducting the experiments. We are grateful to Julia Fischer, Julia Lehmann, and Simone Pika for their help during different stages of the project and to Drew Rendall for his comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. Research was supported by the National Institutes of Health grant no. MH62249, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft research fellowship WI 2637/2-1, and the Department of Linguistics of the MPI EVA, Leipzig. This research was reviewed and approved by the Animal Care and Use Committee at the University of Pennsylvania. We would like to dedicate this research to M. Mokopi who died recently.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Roman M. Wittig
    • 1
    Email author
  • Catherine Crockford
    • 2
  • Robert M. Seyfarth
    • 2
  • Dorothy L. Cheney
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA

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