International Journal of Primatology

, Volume 27, Issue 1, pp 5–25 | Cite as

Sexual Selection in the Loud Calls of Male Primates: Signal Content and Function

  • Roberto A. Delgado

Researchers have used sexual selection theory and hypotheses based on intersexual mate choice and intrasexual mate competition to explain the role of spontaneous long-distance vocalizations emitted by adult male primates, relying on the tacit assumption that assessment or identity cues are encoded in the vocalizations. I review the published literature and aim to substantiate a relationship between sexual selection and long-distance vocal communication in primates. First, I review findings from nonprimate taxa to determine the relative importance of inter- and intrasexual selection and to provide a background for examining primates. Next, I describe several hypotheses for signal content and function in adult male loud calls. Then, I examine the available data across Primates for evidence to support or to refute these hypotheses and to determine if they meet proposed criteria for demonstrating sexual selection [Snowdon, C. T. (2004). Sexual Selection in Primates: New and Comparative Perspectives]. Signal content refers to patterns of acoustic features within vocalizations from which listeners might extract cues or information about the signaler. I interpret signal function, in turn, from behavioral responses of receivers and assume it has ultimate effects on the evolution and design of acoustic signals if direct fitness consequences exist. After the general review across primates, I propose orangutans as a candidate species for further evaluation of sexual selection in vocal communication. The available evidence corroborates a demonstrable relationship between sexual selection and adult male loud calls based on individual recognition, but it is necessary to obtain additional data to affirm a direct benefit to reproductive success.


function individual recognition male loud calls sexual selection signalcontent 



Discussions with, and observations from, Carel P. van Schaik greatly benefited this paper. In addition, I am very grateful for constructive comments from Drs. Charles Snowdon, John Mitani, and members of my doctoral committee: Drs. Susan Alberts, Ken Glander, Steve Nowicki, and Kathleen Smith. I also received helpful feedback from Duke graduate students and BAA faculty through the informal discussion forum, BEAST: Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiological Topics. Lastly, I am especially indebted to Joyce Parga for inviting me to participate in the Sexual Selection symposium at ASP in Calgary 2003 and contribute to this issue of the International Journal of Primatology. A Duke Graduate School Summer Research Fellowship provided funding for my 2000 field season in Sumatra, Indonesia.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Biological Anthropology & AnatomyDuke UniversityDurhamUSA
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyHunter College CUNYNew YorkUSA

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