Tolerant and intolerant macaques show different levels of structural complexity in their vocal communication

Nancy Rebout, Arianna De Marco, Jean-Christophe Lone, Andrea Sanna, Roberto Cozzolino, Jérôme Micheletta, Elisabeth H. M. Sterck, Jan A. M. Langermans, Alban Lemasson, Bernard Thierry

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We tested the social complexity hypothesis which posits that animals living in complex social environments should use complex communication systems. We focused on two components of vocal complexity: diversity (number of categories of calls) and flexibility (degree of gradation between categories of calls). We compared the acoustic structure of vocal signals in groups of macaques belonging to four species with varying levels of uncertainty (i.e. complexity) in social tolerance (the higher the degree of tolerance, the higher the degree of uncertainty): two intolerant species, Japanese and rhesus macaques, and two tolerant species, Tonkean and crested macaques. We recorded the vocalizations emitted by adult females in affiliative, agonistic and neutral contexts. We analysed several acoustic variables: call duration, entropy, time and frequency energy quantiles. The results showed that tolerant macaques displayed higher levels of vocal diversity and flexibility than intolerant macaques in situations with a greater number of options and consequences, i.e. in agonistic and affiliative contexts. We found no significant differences between tolerant and intolerant macaques in the neutral context where individuals are not directly involved in social interaction. This shows that species experiencing more uncertain social interactions displayed greater vocal diversity and flexibility, which supports the social complexity hypothesis.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20200439
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1928
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jun 2020


  • acoustics
  • social system
  • social style
  • cluster analysis
  • comparison
  • primates


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