Open Access Research article

Acoustic structure of male loud-calls support molecular phylogeny of Sumatran and Javanese leaf monkeys (genus Presbytis)

Dirk Meyer12*, John K Hodges1, Dones Rinaldi3, Ambang Wijaya34, Christian Roos5 and Kurt Hammerschmidt6

Author Affiliations

1 Reproductive Biology Unit, German Primate Center, Göttingen, Germany

2 Göttingen Center for Biodiversity and Ecology, Göttingen, Germany

3 Department of Forest Resources Conservation and Ecotourism, Bogor Agricultural University, Bogor, Indonesia

4 WWF Kalimantan Tengah, Palangkaraya, Indonesia

5 Gene Bank of Primates and Primate Genetics Laboratory, German Primate Center, Göttingen, Germany

6 Cognitive Ethology Laboratory, German Primate Center, Göttingen, Germany

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2012, 12:16  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-12-16

Published: 6 February 2012



The degree to which loud-calls in nonhuman primates can be used as a reliable taxonomic tool is the subject of ongoing debate. A recent study on crested gibbons showed that these species can be well distinguished by their songs; even at the population level the authors found reliable differences. Although there are some further studies on geographic and phylogenetic differences in loud-calls of nonhuman primate species, it is unclear to what extent loud-calls of other species have a similar close relation between acoustic structure, phylogenetic relatedness and geographic distance. We therefore conducted a field survey in 19 locations on Sumatra, Java and the Mentawai islands to record male loud-calls of wild surilis (Presbytis), a genus of Asian leaf monkeys (Colobinae) with disputed taxanomy, and compared the structure of their loud-calls with a molecular genetic analysis.


The acoustic analysis of 100 surili male loud-calls from 68 wild animals confirms the differentiation of P.potenziani, P.comata, P.thomasi and P.melalophos. In a more detailed acoustic analysis of subspecies of P.melalophos, a further separation of the southern P.m.mitrata confirms the proposed paraphyly of this group. In concordance with their geographic distribution we found the highest correlation between call structure and genetic similarity, and lesser significant correlations between call structure and geographic distance, and genetic similarity and geographic distance.


In this study we show, that as in crested gibbons, the acoustic structure of surili loud-calls is a reliable tool to distinguish between species and to verify phylogenetic relatedness and migration backgrounds of respective taxa. Since vocal production in other nonhuman primates show similar constraints, it is likely that an acoustic analysis of call structure can help to clarify taxonomic and phylogenetic relationships.