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Gibbon Communication
Singing for survival

It is well known that animals use song as a way of attracting mates, but researchers have found that gibbons have developed an unusual way of scaring off predators - by singing to them.

The primatologists at the University of St Andrews discovered that wild gibbons in Thailand have developed a unique song as a natural defence to predators. Literally singing for survival, the gibbons appear to use the song not just to warn their own group members but those in neighbouring areas.

They said, "We are interested in gibbon songs because, apart from human speech, these vocalisations provide a remarkable case of acoustic sophistication and versatility in primate communication. Our study has demonstrated that gibbons not only use unique songs as a response to predators, but that fellow gibbons understand them."

"This work is a really good indicator that non-human primates are able to use combinations of calls given in other contexts to relay new, and in this case, potentially life-saving information to one another. This type of referential communication is commonplace in human language, but has yet to be widely demonstrated in some of our closest living relatives - the apes."

Gibbons are renowned amongst non-human primates for their loud and impressive songs that transmit over long distances and are commonly used in their daily routine when mating pairs 'duet' every morning. Songs in response to predators - mostly large cats, snakes and birds of prey - have been previously noted, but no extensive research into its purpose or understanding by other gibbons has been done until now.

The team, Esther Clarke, Klaus Zuberbuhler (both St Andrews) and Ulrich Reichard (Max Planck Institute, Germany) observed the singing behaviour of white-handed gibbons in Khao Yai National Park, Thailand. They were able to identify individual gibbons according to their voice and describe gibbon songs as a 'crescendo of notes', formed by combining up to seven notes - including 'wa', 'hoo', 'sharp wow' and 'waoo' - into more complex structures or 'phrases'.

The rest of the news release is available here:
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2006-12/plos-sfs122006.php 

Journal article available here:
http://www.plosone.org/article/fetchArticle.action?articleURI=info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0000073 


Cheers,
Deb
Debra Durham, PhD
Primate Specialist
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
DebraD@peta.org

 
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