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Behavioural innovation and cultural transmission of communication signal in black howler monkeys

Abstract : Social traditions based on communication signals are widespread in birds, cetaceans and humans, but surprisingly rare in nonhuman primates known for having genetically-determined vocal repertoires. This study presents the first description of a singular case of behaviour associated with calling (placing a hand in front of the mouth while vocalizing: HFM) in black howler monkeys. We showed, first, that HFM was found only in a subset of the groups observed, at the same geographical location, and was age- and sex-specific. There was an audience effect on HFM, with highest rates when a neighbouring group was visible. HFM was non-randomly combined with audio-visual signals and always performed while roaring. High HFM rates triggered more vocal responses from group members and male neighbours, and HFM signalers temporally synchronized their behaviour in a predictable way. Finally, the positioning of the hand systematically modified the call's auditory structure. Altogether these results support the idea that HFM is an innovated, culturally transmitted communication signal that may play a role in inter-group competition and intra-group cohesion. This study opens new lines of research about how nonhuman primates developed strategies to overcome their constraints in acoustic plasticity very early in the primate lineage
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Margarita Briseño Jaramillo, Alejandro Estrada, Alban Lemasson. Behavioural innovation and cultural transmission of communication signal in black howler monkeys. Scientific Reports, Nature Publishing Group, 2015, 5, pp.13400. ⟨10.1038/srep13400⟩. ⟨hal-01191563⟩

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