, Volume 48, Issue 4, pp 253–267 | Cite as

Do age- and sex-related variations reliably reflect body size in non-human primate vocalizations? A review

  • E. EyEmail author
  • D. Pfefferle
  • J. Fischer
Review Article


In vocal communication, the mechanisms of sound production are well understood. The length of the vocal folds determines the minimum fundamental frequency, while the size and the shape of the vocal tract affect its filtering characteristics and hence, the resonant frequencies. Both measures—vocal fold length and vocal tract length—are related to body size and therefore, acoustic features are expected to vary with body size. Because direct measures of body size are difficult to obtain from free-ranging animals, age and sex have often been used as proxies. We surveyed studies which included direct measures of size or weight, and also studies in which only age and/or sex differences were examined. The main purpose was to examine whether age- and sex-related variations in acoustic features meet the predictions generated from our knowledge about sound production. Our survey revealed that compared to smaller animals, larger animals utter longer calls, with a lower fundamental frequency, with smaller formant dispersion, and with the energy concentrated in lower frequencies. Age and sex reliably reflect the influence of body size on acoustic features when gross size differences are examined. However, within age- and sex classes, this relationship may break down. In addition to body size, other factors such as internal state or social context may also influence the structure of vocal signals and highlight the richness of information in calls that is potentially available to listeners.


Primates Sound production Body size Age Sex 



We would like to thank three anonymous reviewers who provided helpful comments and advice on early drafts of the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Japan Monkey Centre and Springer 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Research Group Cognitive EthologyGerman Primate CentreGöttingenGermany

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