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Abstract

Signals that are functionally referential provide listeners with information about a signaler’s external environment, such as the presence of a nearby predator. Just as alarm calls may signal the presence of a predator, food-associated calls may signal the presence of food. To date, however, the only conclusive evidence that conspecifics perceive information about food from food-associated calls comes from a single species, the domestic chicken. Geoffroy’s marmosets, small, arboreal New World primates, often emit food-associated calls when finding or consuming food. We presented playbacks of food calls and control sounds to two groups of naturalistically housed marmosets and observed the frequency of food-related behaviors (FRBs) during the 20-min post-playback period. Relative to the control playbacks, food call playbacks elicited an increase in the frequency of two FRBs (foraging and feeding), lasting throughout the post-playback observations. Moreover, the effect of food call playbacks was robust, occurring without regard to the type of food eliciting the food calls, the rate of food calling, or whether the signaler was a member of the receiver’s group. To our knowledge, this research is the first to demonstrate that the food-associated calls of a primate species, like the food-associated calls of domestic chickens, meet the perception criterion for functionally referential communication. The results are discussed in light of the affective and cognitive mechanisms that may underlie the responses of receivers to hearing food-associated calls given by marmoset conspecifics.