Anti-predator behaviour of black-fronted titi monkeys (Callicebus nigrifrons)
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Titi monkeys have long been known for their complex vocal behaviour with numerous high- and low-pitched calls, which can be uttered singly or combined in more complex structures. However, up to date very little is known concerning the function, meaning and context-specific use of these vocal utterances, and virtually nothing is known about their vocalisations in the predation context. This thesis presents a detailed description of the form and function of the anti-predator behaviour of one species of titi monkeys, the black-fronted titi monkey (Callicebus nigrifrons), with a specific focus on their alarm call behaviour. A second aim was to determine the exact mechanisms of alarm calling behaviour, with an emphasis on production and comprehension. Data were collected from several habituated groups in the Caraça Reserve, Minas Gerais, Brazil. Results showed that, when detecting predator species, C nigrifrons produce sequences that initially contain two types of brief, high-pitched calls with distinct frequency contours. Further evidence suggested that some of these sequences are meaningful to conspecific receivers, by indicating the general predator class and location of threat. There were also indications that, within the terrestrial threats, additional information may be encoded by acoustic and compositional differences. Analyses of call order and number of calls per sequence suggested that callers may be able to convey information on both predator type and location. The black-fronted titi monkeys’ vocal system thus provides a further example of zoo-syntax, in which acoustically fixed units of a vocal repertoire are combined into higher order sequences that are meaningful to recipients. According to current definitions, this type of calling behaviour qualifies as functionally referential, by indicating general predator class, terrestrial predator type and location. As such, this is the first empirical demonstration of a sequence-based alarm call system that conveys information on both predator category and location.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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