Wild chimpanzees' use of single and combined vocal and gestural signals

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We describe the individual and combined use of vocalizations and gestures in wild chimpanzees. The rate of gesturing peaked in infancy and, with the exception of the alpha male, decreased again in older age groups, while vocal signals showed the opposite pattern. Although gesture-vocal combinations were relatively rare they were consistently found in all age groups, especially during affiliative and agonistic interactions. Within behavioural contexts rank (excluding alpha-rank) had no effect on the rate of male chimpanzees’ use of vocal or gestural signals and only a small effect on their use of combination signals. The alpha male was an outlier, however, both as a prolific user of gestures and recipient of high levels of vocal and gesture-vocal signals. Persistence in signal use varied with signal type: chimpanzees persisted in use of gestures and gesture vocal combinations after failure, but where their vocal signals failed they tended to add gestural signals to produce gesture-vocal combinations. Overall, chimpanzees employed signals with a sensitivity to the public/private nature of information, by adjusting their use of signal types according to social context and by taking into account potential out of-sight audiences. We discuss these findings in relation to the various socio-ecological challenges that chimpanzees are exposed to in their natural forest habitats and the current discussion of multimodal communication in great apes.
Original languageEnglish
Article number96
Number of pages13
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Publication statusPublished - 27 May 2017


  • Multimodal
  • Ape
  • Language origins
  • Pan troglodytes
  • Signal combination


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