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Multi-Modal Use of a Socially Directed Call in Bonobos

Genty, Emilie; Clay, Zanna; Hobaiter, Catherine; Zuberbühler, Klaus

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Emilie Genty

Catherine Hobaiter

Klaus Zuberbühler


‘Contest hoots’ are acoustically complex vocalisations produced by adult and subadult male bonobos (Pan paniscus). These calls are often directed at specific individuals and regularly combined with gestures and other body signals. The aim of our study was to describe the multi-modal use of this call type and to clarify its communicative and social function. To this end, we observed two large groups of bonobos, which generated a sample of 585 communicative interactions initiated by 10 different males. We found that contest hooting, with or without other associated signals, was produced to challenge and provoke a social reaction in the targeted individual, usually agonistic chase. Interestingly, ‘contest hoots’ were sometimes also used during friendly play. In both contexts, males were highly selective in whom they targeted by preferentially choosing individuals of equal or higher social rank, suggesting that the calls functioned to assert social status. Multi-modal sequences were not more successful in eliciting reactions than contest hoots given alone, but we found a significant difference in the choice of associated gestures between playful and agonistic contexts. During friendly play, contest hoots were significantly more often combined with soft than rough gestures compared to agonistic challenges, while the calls' acoustic structure remained the same. We conclude that contest hoots indicate the signaller's intention to interact socially with important group members, while the gestures provide additional cues concerning the nature of the desired interaction.


Genty, E., Clay, Z., Hobaiter, C., & Zuberbühler, K. (2014). Multi-Modal Use of a Socially Directed Call in Bonobos. PLoS ONE, 9(1), Article e84738.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Nov 27, 2013
Online Publication Date Jan 14, 2014
Publication Date Jan 14, 2014
Deposit Date Apr 19, 2017
Publicly Available Date Apr 20, 2017
Journal PLoS ONE
Publisher Public Library of Science
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 9
Issue 1
Article Number e84738


Published Journal Article (775 Kb)

Publisher Licence URL

Copyright Statement
Copyright: © 2014 Genty et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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