The primatologists at the University of St Andrews discovered that wild gibbons in Thailand have developed a unique song as a natural defence to predators. Literally singing for survival, the gibbons appear to use the song not just to warn their own group members but those in neighbouring areas.
They said, “We are interested in gibbon songs because, apart from human speech, these vocalisations provide a remarkable case of acoustic sophistication and versatility in primate communication. Our study has demonstrated that gibbons not only use unique songs as a response to predators, but that fellow gibbons understand them.”
“This work is a really good indicator that non-human primates are able to use combinations of calls given in other contexts to relay new, and in this case, potentially life-saving information to one another. This type of referential communication is commonplace in human language, but has yet to be widely demonstrated in some of our closest living relatives - the apes.”
Gibbons are renowned amongst non-human primates for their loud and impressive songs that transmit over long distances and are commonly used in their daily routine when mating pairs ‘duet’ every morning. Songs in response to predators – mostly large cats, snakes and birds of prey – have been previously noted, but no extensive research into its purpose or understanding by other gibbons has been done until now.
The team, Esther Clarke, Klaus Zuberbuhler (both St Andrews) and Ulrich Reichard (Max Planck Institute, Germany) observed the singing behaviour of white-handed gibbons in Khao Yai National Park, Thailand. They were able to identify individual gibbons according to their voice and describe gibbon songs as a ‘crescendo of notes’, formed by combining up to seven notes – including ‘wa’, ‘hoo’, ‘sharp wow’ and ‘waoo’ – into more complex structures or ‘phrases’.
The researchers wanted to establish whether there were any differences between the typical duetting morning song and that delivered in response to a predator. They noted subtle differences between the two songs, particularly in the early stages (first ten notes) of the song, which would be important in the case of predator encounters. Songs usually begun with a series of very soft notes, audible only at close range, but which rapidly changed into louder notes heard over long distances.
They said, “We found that gibbons produce loud and conspicuous songs in response to predators to alert kin, both near and far – since gibbons frequently change group compositions, neighbouring groups often consist of close relatives. We found that gibbons appear to use loud ‘long-distance’ calls to warn relatives in neighbouring areas and that those groups responded by joining in the singing, matching the correct predator song, demonstrating that they understood the difference between calls.”
The researchers also observed the singing behaviour of gibbons spending time away from their home group. They noted that during predator songs within the group setting, the absent individual responded with his own song, before reappearing to join the group again.
Because gibbons are unusually monogamous, it is thought that sexual selection is the main evolutionary mechanism for the evolution of gibbon song.
The researchers concluded, “Vocal behaviour appears to function as a powerful tool to deal with immense sexual competition under which these primates operate, and it may not be surprising that they have evolved unusually complex vocal skills to deal with these social challenges.
“Not unlike humans, gibbons assemble a finite number of call units into more complex structures to convey different messages, and our data show that distant individuals are able to distinguish between different song types and understand what they mean. This study offers the first evidence of a functionally referential communication system in a free-ranging ape species.”
“Finding this ability among ape species, especially gibbons who in a sense bridge the evolutionary gap between great apes and monkeys, could shed light on when this ability developed in the primate lineage.”
Bolstering fat cells offers potential new leukemia treatment
17.10.2017 | McMaster University
Ocean atmosphere rife with microbes
17.10.2017 | King Abdullah University of Science & Technology (KAUST)
University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event
On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...
Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.
Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....
Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).
When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...
Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.
How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...
Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.
It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...
17.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
17.10.2017 | Life Sciences
17.10.2017 | Life Sciences
17.10.2017 | Earth Sciences