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Development of snake-directed antipredator behavior by wild white-faced capuchin monkeys: III. the signaling properties of alarm-call tonality.

  • Author(s): Coss, Richard G;
  • Cavanaugh, Cailey;
  • Brennan, Whitney
  • et al.

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In many primates, the acoustic properties of alarm calls can provide information on the level of perceived predatory threat as well as influence the antipredator behavior of nearby conspecifics. The present study examined the harmonics-to-noise ratio (tonality of spectral structure) of alarm calls emitted by white-faced capuchin monkeys (Cebus capucinus) in trees directed at photographic models of a boa constrictor, neotropical rattlesnake, scorpion eater snake, and white snake-shaped control presented on the ground. The average and peak harmonics-to-noise ratios of initial alarm calls by infants, juveniles, and adults and those of nearby second callers were analyzed using PRAAT software. Averaged for age class, the peak harmonics-to-noise ratio of alarm calls directed at the boa constrictor model, characterizing a primary capuchin predator, was reliably higher than the peak harmonics-to-noise ratio of alarm calls directed at the harmless scorpion eater model. This effect was influenced by the higher harmonics-to-noise ratio of infant alarm calls and it disconfirmed our prediction, based on primate vocalization research, that snake perception would increase arousal and alarm-call noisiness. Levels of call tonality did not distinguish the boa and rattlesnake or rattlesnake and scorpion eater models for any age class. Higher alarm-call tonality appeared contagious to nearby perceivers, with focal alarm calling influencing the level of tonality of the first calls of second callers. Together, these findings suggest that the higher peak harmonics-to-noise ratio of capuchin alarm calling directed at snakes is contagious and possibly conveys information about the level of perceived predatory threat.

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