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Individual variation and plasticity in the infant-directed communication of orang-utan mothers


Fröhlich, Marlen; van Schaik, Carel P; van Noordwijk, Maria A; Knief, Ulrich (2022). Individual variation and plasticity in the infant-directed communication of orang-utan mothers. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B: Biological Sciences, 289:20220200.

Abstract

Between-individual variation in behavioural expression, such as social responsiveness, has been shown to have important eco-evolutionary consequences. However, most comparative research on non-human primate communication has focused on species- or population-level variation, while among- and within-individual variation has been largely ignored or considered as noise. Here, we apply a behavioural reaction norm framework to repeated observations of mother–offspring interactions in wild and zoo-housed orang-utans (Pongo abelii, P. pygmaeus) to tease apart variation on the individual level from population-level and species-level differences. Our results showed that mothers not only differed in the composition of their infant-directed gestural repertoires, but also in communicative tactics, such as gestural redoings (i.e. persistence) and responsiveness to infants' requests. These differences remained after controlling for essential moderators, including species, setting, parity and infant age. Importantly, mothers differed in how they adjusted their behaviour across social contexts, making a strong case for investigating within-individual variation. Our findings highlight that partitioning behavioural variation into its within-individual, between-individual and environmental sources allows us to estimate the extent of plastic responses to the immediate environment in great ape communication.

Abstract

Between-individual variation in behavioural expression, such as social responsiveness, has been shown to have important eco-evolutionary consequences. However, most comparative research on non-human primate communication has focused on species- or population-level variation, while among- and within-individual variation has been largely ignored or considered as noise. Here, we apply a behavioural reaction norm framework to repeated observations of mother–offspring interactions in wild and zoo-housed orang-utans (Pongo abelii, P. pygmaeus) to tease apart variation on the individual level from population-level and species-level differences. Our results showed that mothers not only differed in the composition of their infant-directed gestural repertoires, but also in communicative tactics, such as gestural redoings (i.e. persistence) and responsiveness to infants' requests. These differences remained after controlling for essential moderators, including species, setting, parity and infant age. Importantly, mothers differed in how they adjusted their behaviour across social contexts, making a strong case for investigating within-individual variation. Our findings highlight that partitioning behavioural variation into its within-individual, between-individual and environmental sources allows us to estimate the extent of plastic responses to the immediate environment in great ape communication.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Department of Evolutionary Anthropology
Special Collections > Centers of Competence > Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Language Evolution
Dewey Decimal Classification:300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology
Uncontrolled Keywords:General Agricultural and Biological Sciences, General Environmental Science, General Immunology and Microbiology, General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology, General Medicine
Language:English
Date:25 May 2022
Deposited On:19 May 2022 06:13
Last Modified:27 Jun 2024 01:37
Publisher:Royal Society Publishing
ISSN:0962-8452
OA Status:Hybrid
Free access at:PubMed ID. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2022.0200
PubMed ID:35582800
Project Information:
  • : FunderSNSF
  • : Grant ID51NF40_180888
  • : Project TitleNCCR Evolving Language (phase I)
  • Content: Published Version
  • Licence: Creative Commons: Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)