International Journal of Primatology

, Volume 32, Issue 4, pp 914–923 | Cite as

Copulation Calls in Female Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) Convey Identity but Do Not Accurately Reflect Fertility

  • Simon William TownsendEmail author
  • Tobias Deschner
  • Klaus Zuberbühler


Copulation calls are a relatively common feature of female primate behavior thought to function in the advertisement of female receptivity and subsequent incitation of malemale competition. To date, the majority of work on copulation calling behavior has focused on various monkey species, with little empirical evidence from the great apes. Previous research on wild chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) has suggested that estrous females produce copulation calls to avoid monopolization by single males and to minimize competition from other females. We here extended these findings by investigating to what degree these social demands were reflected in the calls’ acoustic structure. We recorded and acoustically analyzed 71 copulation call bouts from 6 adult female chimpanzees in the Budongo Forest, Uganda. We did not find any acoustic differences in calls given by females in fertile and nonfertile periods, as assessed by their hormonal profiles. However, the calls’ acoustic structure did reliably encode identity cues of the calling female. We propose that, in chimpanzees, the use and morphology of copulation calls have jointly been shaped by the selective advantage of concealing fertility. Owing to the low visibility conditions associated with chimpanzees’ natural forest habitat and their dispersed social system, providing identity cues may be of particular biological relevance for these nonhuman primates.


Acoustic structure Chimpanzees Female–female competition Information content 



We thank the Ugandan Wildlife Authority and the President’s Office of the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology for permission to work in the forest. We thank Vernon Reynolds and Fred Babweteera for their support; Eric Bowman and Roger Mundry for their statistical advice; Vera Schmeling for assistance with the hormone analysis; Joanna Setchell, Manuela Cadilek, and 2 anonymous reviewers for their comments on the manuscript; and Monday M. Gideon for his invaluable help and company in the forest. This study was funded by the BBSRC, the Leverhulme Trust, and the Max Planck Society. We thank the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland for providing core funding to the Budongo Conservation Field Station. We dedicate this study to the memory of our friend and colleague, the late Odong-too Richard.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Simon William Townsend
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  • Tobias Deschner
    • 4
  • Klaus Zuberbühler
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.School of PsychologyUniversity of St AndrewsSt AndrewsUK
  2. 2.Budongo Conservation Field StationMasindiUganda
  3. 3.Animal Behaviour Group, Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental StudiesUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  4. 4.Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary AnthropologyLeipzigGermany

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