Dominance style is a key predictor of vocal use and evolution across nonhuman primates

Eithne Kavanagh*, Sally E. Street, Felix O. Angwela, Thore J. Bergman, Maryjka B. Blaszczyk, Laura M. Bolt, Margarita Briseño-Jaramillo, Michelle Brown, Chloe Chen-Kraus, Zanna Clay, Camille Coye, Melissa Emery Thompson, Alejandro Estrada, Claudia Fichtel, Barbara Fruth, Marco Gamba, Cristina Giacoma, Kirsty E. Graham, Samantha Green, Cyril C. GrueterShreejata Gupta, Morgan L. Gustison, Lindsey Hagberg, Daniela Hedwig, Katharine M. Jack, Peter M. Kappeler, Gillian King-Bailey, Barbora Kuběnová, Alban Lemasson, David Macgregor Inglis, Zarin Machanda, Andrew Macintosh, Bonaventura Majolo, Sophie Marshall, Stephanie Mercier, Jérôme Micheletta, Martin Muller, Hugh Notman, Karim Ouattara, Julia Ostner, Mary S.M. Pavelka, Louise R. Peckre, Megan Petersdorf, Fredy Quintero, Gabriel Ramos-Fernández, Martha M. Robbins, Roberta Salmi, Isaac Schamberg, Valérie A.M. Schoof, Oliver Schülke, Stuart Semple, Joan B. Silk, J. Roberto Sosa-Lopéz, Valeria Torti, Daria Valente, Raffaella Ventura, Erica Van De Waal, Anna H. Weyher, Claudia Wilke, Richard Wrangham, Christopher Young, Anna Zanoli, Klaus Zuberbühler, Adriano R. Lameira, Katie Slocombe

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Animal communication has long been thought to be subject to pressures and constraints associated with social relationships. However, our understanding of how the nature and quality of social relationships relates to the use and evolution of communication is limited by a lack of directly comparable methods across multiple levels of analysis. Here, we analysed observational data from 111 wild groups belonging to 26 non-human primate species, to test how vocal communication relates to dominance style (the strictness with which a dominance hierarchy is enforced, ranging from 'despotic' to 'tolerant'). At the individual-level, we found that dominant individuals who were more tolerant vocalized at a higher rate than their despotic counterparts. This indicates that tolerance within a relationship may place pressure on the dominant partner to communicate more during social interactions. At the species-level, however, despotic species exhibited a larger repertoire of hierarchy-related vocalizations than their tolerant counterparts. Findings suggest primate signals are used and evolve in tandem with the nature of interactions that characterize individuals' social relationships.

Original languageEnglish
Article number210873
Number of pages15
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number7
Early online date28 Jul 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 28 Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors.


  • communication
  • dominance style
  • social behaviour
  • sociality
  • vocal

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