The Influence of Loud Calls on Intergroup Spacing Mechanism in Black Howler Monkeys (Alouatta pigra)


Long-distance vocalizations form an integral part of intergroup spacing mechanisms. The decision to approach, retreat, or ignore loud calls of neighboring groups might be influenced by resource availability, location in the home range, presence of fertile females or infants, or differential resource-holding potentials, and can alter intergroup encounter rates. During a 19-mo study (February 2016–August 2017), we examined navigation decisions relative to neighbor’s loud calls for five groups of black howler monkeys (Alouatta pigra) in Palenque National Park, Mexico. Study groups encountered any of their neighbors at a mean rate of one every 3.5 days and the same neighbor at a mean rate of one every 16.7 days, which was significantly more frequent than would be expected based on a simulation model that randomized observed daily paths. These results are consistent with mutual attraction. Based on 368 travel bouts relative to nearby (50–300 m) calls of neighbors, study groups were more likely to approach calls of neighbors than would be expected by chance, but only when neighbors were close by (50–150 m), suggesting that the imminence of threat by opponents played a role. Of the nine social and ecological predictor variables considered, availability of ripe fruits and of flowers was an important driver of their navigation choices and groups were more likely to move toward neighbors’ calls when ripe fruits were scarce and to move away when flowers were abundant. We found no evidence that the presence of fertile females or unweaned infants influenced navigation decisions. Nor did relative competitive abilities of opposing groups, measured as numeric superiority in group size or male group size, affect navigation decisions. This study provides evidence that black howler monkeys incorporate information on resource availability and neighbors’ current locations into their navigation decisions and intergroup spacing patterns.

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We thank the Mexican government (CONANP and INAH) for granting research permission to work in Palenque National Park. Our research was supported by a research grant from Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (PAPIIT-UNAM project IN200216). We also thank the numerous research assistants who provided support in the field, especially Elsa Barrios, Anaid Cardenas, Dallas Levey, and Miguel de Guinea. We thank Takeshi Furuichi, Joanna Setchell, and two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments on previous versions of the manuscript.

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SVB and AE conceived and designed the research. SVB conducted field work, performed statistical analyses, and wrote the manuscript. AE provided editorial advice.

Correspondence to Sarie Van Belle.

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Handling Editor: Takeshi Furuichi

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Van Belle, S., Estrada, A. The Influence of Loud Calls on Intergroup Spacing Mechanism in Black Howler Monkeys (Alouatta pigra). Int J Primatol (2019) doi:10.1007/s10764-019-00121-x

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  • Ideal gas model
  • Intergroup encounters
  • Mutual attraction
  • Mutual avoidance
  • Navigation
  • Vocal communication