Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 67, Issue 6, pp 947–961 | Cite as

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

  • Stephanie N. SpeharEmail author
  • Anthony Di Fiore
Original Paper


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.


Ateles Communication Loud calls Fission–fusion Vocalizations Social interactions 



We would like to thank the Ministerio de Ambiente of the government of Ecuador for their continued support of the long-term primate research in Yasuní National Park. Logistical support for this study was provided by the Estación Cientifica Yasuní of the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador. We are also grateful to the Maxus Ecuador, Inc., Repsol-YPF, and the Waorani communities in the region for providing additional logistical support and permissions. We are indebted to Wampi Ahua, Dylan Schwindt, Seth Kolloen, and Paul Mathewson for providing invaluable assistance in collecting behavioral data in the field and to Wilmer Pozo, Larry Dew, Andres Link, and Scott Suarez for habituation and background behavioral work on the study group, which facilitated this research. Yukiko Shimooka and Gabriel Ramos-Fernández provided valuable and much appreciated comments and information on spider monkey loud calls in other study populations, and the constructive suggestions of the Associate Editor and two anonymous reviewers have greatly improved this manuscript. Financial support was provided by the National Science Foundation, the L.S.B. Leakey Foundation, Primate Conservation, Inc., New York University, and the New York Consortium in Evolutionary Primatology.

Ethical standards

All appropriate institutional permissions and ethical approvals were obtained for this research, and all research undertaken adhered to the relevant laws of the country in which it took place (Ecuador).

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

265_2013_1520_MOESM1_ESM.docx (551 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 551 kb)


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Anthropology Program, Department of Religious Studies and AnthropologyUniversity of Wisconsin OshkoshOshkoshUSA
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of Texas at AustinAustinUSA

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