Are dialects socially learned in marmoset monkeys? Evidence from translocation experiments

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:2019
Authors:Zürcher, Willems, Burkart
Secondary Authors:Sakata

The acoustic properties of vocalizations in common marmosets differ between populations. These differences may be the result of social vocal learning, but they can also result from environmental or genetic differences between populations. We performed translocation experiments to separately quantify the influence of a change in the physical environment (experiment 1), and a change in the social environment (experiment 2) on the acoustic properties of calls from individual captive common marmosets. If population differences were due to genetic differences, we expected no change in the vocalizations of the translocated marmosets. If differences were due to environmental factors, we expected vocalizations to permanently change contingent with environmental changes. If social learning was involved, we expected that the vocalizations of animals translocated to a new population with a different dialect would become more similar to the new population. In experiment 1, we translocated marmosets to a different physical environment without changing the social composition of the groups or their neighbours. Immediately after the translocation to the new facility, one out of three call types showed a significant change in call structure, but 5–6 weeks later, the calls were no longer different from before the translocation. Thus, the novel physical environment did not induce long lasting changes in the vocalizations of the marmosets. In experiment 2, we translocated marmosets to a new population with a different dialect. Importantly, our previous work had shown that these two populations differed significantly in vocalization structure. The translocated marmosets were still housed in their original social group, but after translocation they were surrounded by the vocalizations from neighbouring groups of the new population. The vocal distance between the translocated individuals and the new population decreased for two out of three call types over 16 weeks. Thus, even without direct social contact or interaction, the vocalizations of the translocated animals converged towards the new population, indicating that common marmosets can modify their calls due to acoustic input from conspecifics alone, via crowd vocal learning. To our knowledge, this is the first study able to distinguish between different explanations for vocal dialects as well as to show crowd vocal learning in a primate species.

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Scratchpads developed and conceived by (alphabetical): Ed Baker, Katherine Bouton Alice Heaton Dimitris Koureas, Laurence Livermore, Dave Roberts, Simon Rycroft, Ben Scott, Vince Smith