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Abstract

Focal recordings of the vocalizations of squirrel monkeys, Saimiri sciureus, occupying an undisturbed Peruvian habitat were collected to evaluate the importance of both the ecological and social functions of female vocal behavior. The rates and sequences of six call types were examined by context: single, double, and multiple chuck, peep, tweet, and tweet-chuck. In contrast to laboratory studies, our findings emphasize the primacy of ecological functions in the wild, where calling permits females to operate as a convoy of spatially separated individuals in an arboreal habitat where visual contact is limited. Chuck calls are probably best interpreted as contact calls. The rate of chucks and tweet-chucks increased when the nearest adult female was > 5 m away. However, call production did not predict a change in the spatial separation between a female and her nearest adult female. During travel, the rate of single and double chucks was greater and the rate of multiple chucks was reduced. No direct relationship was found between foraging activities and vocal behavior. Although secondary, social factors did have a subtle effect on vocal behavior: the larger the social alliance of a female, the lower the rate and repetitiveness of her chuck vocalizations. We also consider the role of variations in vocalization rates among primates and the differing conclusions of field and captive studies of squirrel monkey vocal behavior.