Multimodal communication in orangutans: redundancy versus complementarity

Project leader

Dr. Marlen Fröhlich (Postdoctoral researcher, AIM University of Zürich, CH)

Language is commonly narrowed down to speech, but human face-to-face communication is in fact an intrinsically multimodal phenomenon. Despite growing evidence that the communication of nonhuman primates, our main models for language evolution, is also inherently multimodal, most studies have focused on either gestures or vocalizations in isolation.

This project aims to address this issue by examining function and ontogeny of multimodal communication in Bornean and Sumatran orangutans living in both wild and captive settings. By investigating the production of and responses to unimodal and multimodal signals, we want to better understand how and why great apes combine signal components within or across sensory sensory modalities. Due to the orangutans’ interspecific differences in sociability and their arboreality, we can test established hypotheses on multimodal signal function by quantifying the extent to which the socio-ecological environment affects communicative behaviour.