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Production of food-associated calls in wild male chimpanzees is dependent on the composition of the audience


Chimpanzees produce acoustically distinct calls when encountering food. Previous research on a number of species has indicated that food-associated calls are relatively widespread in animal communication, and the production of these calls can be influenced by both ecological and social factors. Here, we investigate the factors influencing the production of food-associated calls in wild chimpanzees and examine whether male chimpanzees produce food-associated calls selectively in the presence of important social partners. Male chimpanzees form stable long-term social relationships with each other, and these social bonds are vital in enabling a range of cooperative activities, such as group hunting and territory defence. Our data show that males were significantly more likely to produce food-associated calls if an important social partner was nearby, regardless of the size of the audience or the presence of oestrus females. Call production was also mediated by the size of the food patch and by whether or not the food could be monopolised. The presence of important social partners explained most of the variation in male calling behaviour, indicating that food-associated calls are socially directed and serve a bonding function.

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We thank the Ugandan Wildlife Authority, the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology and the President's Office for permission to work in the forest. We are grateful to Thibaud Gruber and Monday Gideon for collecting additional Raphia feeding data, to Bonnie Fullard for data entry and analysis, and to Roger Mundry for statistical advice. This study was funded by the BBSRC, the Leverhulme Trust, and the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin. We are grateful to the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland for providing core funding for the Budongo Conservation Field Station (BCFS) and to the field assistants of BCFS for their help with data collection.

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Correspondence to Katie E. Slocombe.

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Communicated by D. Watts

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Slocombe, K.E., Kaller, T., Turman, L. et al. Production of food-associated calls in wild male chimpanzees is dependent on the composition of the audience. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 64, 1959–1966 (2010).

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  • Chimpanzee
  • Food-associated call
  • Audience effect
  • Social bonding
  • Grooming
  • Call production
  • Vocal communication