Primate Dialects Recorded in South America--A First

January 28, 2009

The accents and dialects that add so much variety—and sometimes confusion—to everyday life are not unique to humans, and they may be more common in primates than previously thought.

Researchers have found the first evidence for regional vocal differences in a South American primate, the pygmy marmoset.

Marmoset groups in Ecuador were recorded using unique vocalizations when communicating over distances up to 64 feet (20 meters).

"The variations could be linked to habitat, with different pitches and durations being useful in different densities of forest," said lead researcher Stella de la Torre, an ecologist at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito in Ecuador.

However, de la Torre suggests, it is also possible that the differences are the result of social interactions.

Sue Margulis, a primatologist at Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago who was not in involved in the study, agrees.

"Accents help people to identify others of the same social group, and things may not be much different for marmosets," she said.

Marmosets may listen to the calls of potential mates to determine where they are from in an effort to avoid inbreeding, Margulis explained.

More Monkey Business

Pygmy marmosets are not the first mammals to be heard using dialects—similar vocal variations have been detected in other primates, such as Japanese macaques and chimpanzees.

Hear the marmoset calls:

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Continued on Next Page >>


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