North-South divide found in gibbons

Posted on February 10, 2011


White-Cheeked Gibbon

If music be the food of love, then gibbons will never go hungry.

Renown for their duetting, researchers have discovered a rather human trait in the singing of these apes – they have different dialects according to where they live – and the divide between the northerners and southerners is the most pronounce.

I can hear my other half (the Northerner) now: “Why aye man, them funky gibbons are juss like us, pet!”

Northern White-Cheeked Gibbon

Scientists from the German Primate Centre in Göttingen in Germany analysed the frequency, pitch and other differences among all the song. They plotted all of these on a scattergram, with each song’s acoustical characteristics determining its geographical position and found that gibbons sing with regional “accents”.

Gibbons (Hylobatidae) are found all over Southeast Asia – China, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. They live in monogamous family groups and both sexes practice duetting as a way of marking their territory, attracting mates and strengthening their pair bonding.

Researchers assessed genetic diversity across 19 populations for six species of crested gibbon (genus Nomascus) in 24 different areas. They collected more than 400 song samples using 53 specific acoustic measures. They found the more closely related the gibbon group, the more similar is their singing. Two of the northern species, sang with twangs that were entirely different from each other as well as from the southern troops.

According to scientists gibbons, unlike songbirds, are pretty much born with their song software hardwired (preloaded), whereas birds of the same or similar species,  tend to vary their trilling when they live close to one another, to distinguish their song, territory and mates from each other.

The study, has been published in the BMC Evolutionary Biology journal – just in time for Valentine’s Day!!