Data from: Strategic use of affiliative vocalizations by wild female baboons

  • Joan Silk (Creator)
  • Robert M. Seyfarth (Creator)
  • Dorothy L. Cheney (Creator)
  • Joan B. Silk (Creator)



Although vocal production in non-human primates is highly constrained, individuals appear to have some control over whether to call or remain silent. We investigated how contextual factors affect the production of grunts given by wild female chacma baboons, Papio ursinus, during social interactions. Females grunted as they approached other adult females 28% of the time. Supporting previous research, females were much more likely to grunt to mothers with young infants than to females without infants. Grunts also significantly increased the likelihood of affiliative interactions among all partners. Notably, however, grunts did not simply mirror existing social bonds. Instead, they appeared to perform a very different function: namely, to serve as signals of benign intent between partners whose relationship is not necessarily close or predictable. Females were less likely to grunt to their mothers or adult daughters—the individuals with whom they shared the closest and least aggressive bonds—than to other females. In contrast, patterns of grunting between sisters were similar to those between nonkin, perhaps reflecting sisters’ more ambivalent relationships. Females grunted at higher rates to lower-ranking, than to higher-ranking, females, supporting the hypothesis that grunts do not simply signal the signaler’s level of arousal or anxiety about receiving aggression, but instead function as signals of benign intent. Taken together, results suggest that the grunts given by female baboons serve to reduce uncertainty about the likely outcome of an interaction between partners whose relationship is not predictably affiliative. Despite their limited vocal repertoire, baboons appear to be skilled at modifying call production in different social contexts and for different audiences.
Date made availableSep 22 2017

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