Female Baboons’ Responses to Male Loud Calls


Corresponding author: Dawn Kitchen, Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA. E-mail: dkitchen@psych.upenn.edu


Male baboons (Papio cynocephalus ursinus) give loud, two-syllable ‘wahoo’ calls in response to predators (alarm wahoos) and during aggressive displays that may include multiple males chasing each other or females (contest wahoos). Although acoustic analysis has revealed significant differences between the two calls, these differences are subtle and the two subtypes can be difficult for humans to distinguish. Whatever the evolutionary mechanisms that might have acted on the production of acoustically graded loud calls, it would seem to be adaptive for listeners to discriminate among calls that are given in qualitatively different contexts. This is particularly true in the case of female baboons. Alarm wahoos, which are given during predator encounters, demand qualitatively different responses from contest wahoos, which are given in contexts when females are at risk of harassment and infanticide by males. In playback experiments, females responded for significantly longer durations to alarm than to contest wahoos. Moreover, only alarm wahoos caused females to flee. Despite their acoustic similarity, female baboons appear to associate alarm and contest wahoos with qualitatively different events.