Group size and mating system predict sex differences in vocal fundamental frequency in anthropoid primates

Toe Aung, Alexander K. Hill, Dana Pfefferle, Edward McLester, James Fuller, Jenna M. Lawrence, Ivan Garcia-Nisa, Rachel L. Kendal, Megan Petersdorf, James P. Higham, Gérard Galat, Adriano R. Lameira, Coren L. Apicella, Claudia Barelli, Mary E. Glenn, Gabriel Ramos-Fernandez, David A. Puts

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Vocalizations differ substantially between the sexes in many primates, and low-frequency male vocalizations may be favored by sexual selection because they intimidate rivals and/or attract mates. Sexual dimorphism in fundamental frequency may be more pronounced in species with more intense male mating competition and in those with large group size, where social knowledge is limited and efficient judgment of potential mates and competitors is crucial. These non-mutually exclusive explanations have not been tested simultaneously across primate species. In a sample of vocalizations (n = 1914 recordings) across 37 anthropoid species, we investigated whether fundamental frequency dimorphism evolved in association with increased intensity of mating competition (H1), large group size (H2), multilevel social organization (H3), a trade-off against the intensity of sperm competition (H4), and/or poor acoustic habitats (H5), controlling for phylogeny and body size dimorphism. We show that fundamental frequency dimorphism increased in evolutionary transitions towards larger group size and polygyny. Findings suggest that low-frequency male vocalizations in primates may have been driven by selection to win mating opportunities by avoiding costly fights and may be more important in larger groups, where limited social knowledge affords advantages to rapid assessment of status and threat potential via conspicuous secondary sexual characteristics.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Article number4069
    JournalNature communications
    Issue number1
    StatePublished - Dec 2023

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • General Chemistry
    • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
    • General Physics and Astronomy


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