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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Monkeys pick up local "accents"




Courtesy of BioMed Central
and 
World Science
 
 staff
Apes and monkeys have regional "accents"-and as with people, this behavior is learnt rather than genetically programmed, a study suggests.

To what extent animal communication is learnt rather than inborn is hotly debated. Monkeys and apes, some of the closest evolutionary relatives to humans, seem to be born with a range of calls and sounds specific to the species. But overlying this there seems to be some flexibility: for example, you can tell where a gibbon, a type of ape, is from by its accent.

In the new research, published in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology, scientists studied free-living monkeys of the species Cercopithecus campbelli campbelli, also known as Campbell's monkeys. They observed social interactions, in particular time spent in mutual grooming, and recorded "contact calls" made by females to stay in touch with other monkeys while traveling, foraging or resting.

The investigators used DNA tests from monkey droppings to determine how closely related different individuals were. Their social structure and family groups were also well known because they have lived near a research station at Taï National Park, Ivory Coast, for more than a decade. Groups consisted of one male, four or six females, and their offspring.

"Each female has its own distinctive vocalisation but they appear to pick up habits from each other," said Alban Lemasson of the University of Rennes in France, who led the research.

Similarities between "contact calls" depended on the length of time adult females spent grooming each other, and who their grooming partner was, rather than genetic relatedness, he observed. This means that while the general call repertoire depends on genes, he explained, "the fine structure within this is influenced by the company they kept."

"This behaviour also fits with the theory that human speech has evolved gradually from ancestral primate vocalisations and social patterns," he added. Primates are the evolutionary lineage of animals comprising humans and their close relatives, such as apes.
 
Posted by
Robert Karl Stonjek

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