Emilie Bétrix

Research interest

Is chimpanzee pant hooting ontogenetically or socially acquired? 

I am a master student in Cognitive Science at the University of Neuchâtel. My main interest is language. Under the supervision of Professor Klaus Zuberbühler and Postdoctoral Researcher Pawel Fedurek, I am collecting data for my master thesis in Budongo Forest, Uganda, from August 2016 to February 2017.

For my master thesis I investigate the pant hoot development in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes).

Pant hooting is one of the major communicative signals in the chimpanzees’ vocal repertoire; it is a long distance call that can serve multiple functions such as providing information about the callers’ location, gender, age and community membership.
Acoustic structure and call function of the male pant-hoot are already well described in the scientific literature; female pant hooting, however, is still less understood.
The purpose of this study is to advance our understanding of male juvenile pant-hooting behavior. During the age of five to ten years, young male chimpanzees become more independent and start ranging without their mother, spending more time with adult males during daily activities like feeding or patrolling.
I hypothesize that, although they are male, my subjects’ vocal behavior initially is more likely to resemble that of their mother and other females’, rather than the males’ vocal behavior, since they have mainly been in contact with females as infants. Thus, their pant-hooting behavior would have been socially acquired, in contact with peers.
Alternatively, male juveniles might follow the structure of male pant hoots, regardless of their social exposition, which might indicate a genetic component in this vocal behavior.