Identity information in bonobo vocal communication: from sender to receiver
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Identity information is vital for highly social species as it facilitates individual recognition and allows for differentiation between social partners in many contexts, such as dominance hierarchies, territorial defence, mating and parent-offspring identification, and group cohesion and coordination. For many species vocalisations can be the most effective communication channel in complex environments and over long-distances and are encoded with the stable features of an individual’s voice. Associations between these individual vocal signatures and accumulated social knowledge about conspecifics can greatly increase an animal’s fitness, as it facilitates adaptively constructive social decisions. This thesis investigates the encoding and decoding of identity information in the vocal communication system of the bonobo, Pan paniscus. We firstly investigated the stability of vocal signatures across the five most common call types in the bonobo vocal repertoire. Results showed that while all call types have the potential to code identity information, loud calls used during times of high arousal and for distance communication have the strongest individual vocal signatures. Following the first study, we investigated if social familiarity and relatedness affect the acoustic features that code individual information in the bark call type. Overall, we found strong evidence for vocal convergence, and specifically, that individuals who are related and familiar, independently from one another, are more vocally similar to one another than unrelated and unfamiliar individuals. In a final study, we tested if bonobos are capable of using the encoded identity information to recognise past group members that they no longer live with. Through a series playback experiments we demonstrated that bonobos are capable of recognising familiar individuals from vocalisations alone even after years of separation. Collectively, the results of this thesis show that the encoding and decoding of identity information in bonobo vocalisations is a dynamic system, subject to modification through social processes but robust enough to allow for individual recognition over time. In conclusion, these studies contribute to a better understanding of the vocal communication system of a non-human primate species with a unique and complex social network.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
Embargo Date: 2020-06-01
Embargo Reason: Thesis restricted in accordance with University regulations. Print and electronic copy restricted until 1st June 2020
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