Correlates of social role and conflict severity in wild vervet monkey agonistic screams

Stéphanie Mercier, Eloïse C. Déaux, Erica van de Waal, Axelle E. J. Bono, Klaus Zuberbuhler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Screams are acoustically distinct, high-pitched and high-amplitude calls, produced by many social species. Despite a wide range of production contexts, screams are characterised by an acoustic structure that appears to serve in altering the behaviour of targeted receivers during agonistic encounters. In chimpanzees, this can be achieved by callers producing acoustic variants that correlate with their identity, social role, relationship with the targeted recipient, the composition of the audience and the nature of the event. Although vervet monkeys (Chlorocebus pygerythrus) have been studied for decades, not much is known about their agonistic screams. Here, we examined agonistic screams produced by wild vervet monkeys to investigate the degree to which caller identity, social role and conflict severity affected call structure. We found that screams were both individually distinctive and dependent of the agonistic events. In particular, victim screams were longer and higher-pitched than aggressor screams, while screams produced in severe conflicts (chases, physical contact) had higher entropy than those in mild conflicts. We discuss these findings in terms of their evolutionary significance and suggest that acoustic variation might serve to reduce the aggression level of opponents, while simultaneously attracting potential helpers.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0214640
Number of pages20
JournalPLoS One
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2019


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