Complex patterns of signalling to convey different social goals of sex in bonobos, Pan paniscus

Emilie Genty*, Christof Neumann, Klaus Zuberbuehler

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Sexual behaviour in bonobos (Pan paniscus) functions beyond mere reproduction to mediate social interactions and relationships. In this study, we assessed the signalling behaviour in relation to four social goals of sex in this species: appeasement after conflict, tension reduction, social bonding and reproduction. Overall, sexual behaviour was strongly decoupled from its ancestral reproductive function with habitual use in the social domain, which was accompanied by a corresponding complexity in communication behaviour. We found that signalling behaviour varied systematically depending on the initiator's goals and gender. Although all gestures and vocalisations were part of the species-typical communication repertoire, they were often combined and produced flexibly. Generally, gestures and multi-modal combinations were more flexibly used to communicate a goal than vocalisations. There was no clear relation between signalling behaviour and success of sexual initiations, suggesting that communication was primarily used to indicate the signaller's intention, and not to influence a recipient's willingness to interact sexually. We discuss these findings in light of the larger question of what may have caused, in humans, the evolutionary transition from primate-like communication to language.

Original languageEnglish
Article number16135
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 5 Nov 2015


  • Wild bonobos
  • Tension regulation
  • Chimpanzees
  • Wamba
  • Communication
  • Evolution
  • Behavior
  • Troglodytes
  • Dominance
  • Dynamics


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