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Wild Chimpanzees Produce Group-Specific Calls: a Case for Vocal Learning?


Catherine Crockford, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Deutscher Platz 6, 04103 Leipzig, Germany. E-mail:


Vocal learning, where animals can modify the structure of their vocalizations as a result of experience, has been found in a range of birds and mammals. Although vocal learning is a fundamental aspect of developing spoken language, there is as yet little evidence that vocal learning occurs in primates. Here we examine whether vocal learning may occur in chimpanzees. We analysed whether wild male chimpanzees, Pan troglodytes verus, of four communities living in a similar habitat in the Taï Forest, Côte d'Ivoire, developed community specific pant hoots. If so, we expected males of three contiguous communities to have distinct pant hoots, while pant hoots of males from a fourth, distant community, located 70 km away, should only differ from those of the contiguous communities by chance. Our analysis confirmed these expectations. In addition, the acoustic distances between the pant hoots of pairs of individuals did not correlate with the genetic relatedness of those pairs, where genetic relatedness was determined using nuclear DNA analysis. Thus, neither habitat nor genetic differences accounted for the observation that there were acoustic differences in the pant hoot structure of males living in neighbouring communities, but not in those of males from a distant community. This suggests that chimpanzees may actively modify pant hoots to be different from their neighbours, providing support for the vocal learning hypothesis.

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