I wanna talk like you (oo)

December 15, 2011

The role of social structure in animal communication is hotly debated. Non-human primates seem to be born with a range of calls and sounds which is dependent upon their species. But overlying this there seems to be some flexibility - you can tell where a gibbon lives by its accent. New research published in Biomed Central's open access journal BMC Evolutionary Biology used Campbell's monkeys to look in detail at the nature versus nurture question and showed that non-human primate 'language', like humans, is learnt.

Researchers studied free-living Campbell's monkeys (Cercopithecus campbelli campbelli) from the Taï National Park, Ivory Coast. They observed social interactions (time spent grooming) and recorded 'contact calls' made while the females were travelling, foraging or resting. Genetic similarity (family relationships) was determined by microsatellite analysis of DNA isolated from droppings. These monkeys have lived close to the Taï Monkey Project Research Station for more than 10 years so their social structure and family groups are well known. Groups consisted of one male, four or six females, along with their offspring.

Dr Alban Lemasson who led the multi centre team explained, "Each female has its own distinctive vocalisation but they appear to pick up habits from each other. Similarities between 'contact calls' were dependent on the length of time adult females spent grooming each other (and who their grooming partner was) rather than genetic relatedness. This means that while the general call repertoire of non-human primates is dependent on genetic factors, 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."
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Notes to Editors

1. Social learning of vocal structure in a nonhuman primate?
Alban Lemasson, Karim Ouattara, Eric J Petit and Klaus Zuberbühler
BMC Evolutionary Biology (in press)

Please name the journal in any story you write. If you are writing for the web, please link to the article. All articles are available free of charge, according to BioMed Central's open access policy.

Article citation and URL available on request at press@biomedcentral.com on the day of publication.

2. BMC Evolutionary Biology is an Open Access, peer-reviewed online journal that considers articles on all aspects of molecular and non-molecular evolution of all organisms, as well as phylogenetics and palaeontology.

3. BioMed Central (http://www.biomedcentral.com/) is an STM (Science, Technology and Medicine) publisher which has pioneered the open access publishing model. All peer-reviewed research articles published by BioMed Central are made immediately and freely accessible online, and are licensed to allow redistribution and reuse. BioMed Central is part of Springer Science+Business Media, a leading global publisher in the STM sector.

BioMed Central

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