chimpanzees exhibit greater behavioral diversity when living in more variable environments

chimpanzees exhibit greater behavioral diversity when living in more variable environments

When studying the life sciences, there are a lot of in-depth concepts to take in. Depending on the the type of science you are studying, biology vs. evolution, for example, you may even have to learn a handful of mathematical formulas to fully appreciate the material. Here, we are just having a light-hearted overview of the life sciences, so a light serving of sativa will do just fine.

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In a massive study that observed over 140 chimpanzee communities, researchers got a closer look into how these primates develop such a broad diversity of behavioral patterns. The new publication shows that communities from more variable environments display a much more varied repertoire of behaviors than those from more predictable, “stable” habitats.

Not only does this demonstrate how behaviors arise from continuous adaptive responses to environmental fluctuation, but it also shows how deeply external factors can influence cultural developments in chimp communities as well.

Observing Chimps’ Behavioral Diversity in the Wild

The team visited populations of chimpanzees, Pan troglodytes, in the forests of central and western Africa and monitored the animals using a database of 31 distinct chimp behaviors. These ranged from the use of caves to tool use, to preferred foraging strategies. They weighed the observance of specific actions and patterns against three abiotic factors:

  • Variability in rainfall
  • Type of habitat (particularly, savannah versus forest)
  • The communities’ distance from glacial forest refuges

In addition to these abiotic factors, researcher Ammie Kalan noted that there may be biotic elements exercising influence over behavioral evolution as well. Kalan stated, “I’m sure there are [influential biotic factors] including degree of sociality and gregariousness among chimpanzee populations which we know can be different, as well as predation risk, and competition with sympatric primates.”

Kalan added that, although such biotic factors have been observed in the past to an extent, none have been recorded as in-depth as those listed above, in this particular study.

Chimpanzees that lived further away from areas that were, historically, forest refuges during Pleistocene glacial cycles were discovered to have a significantly broader range of behaviors than others. The scientists believe that the move away from the safety and relative stability of the forests encouraged the chimps to innovate.

Savannah-dwelling communities displayed greater diversity in their conduct and cultures as well, in addition to those living in habitats with greater seasonal variation in rainfall.

Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Unsplash

Will Primate Behavioral Evolution Continue?

Given the environmental turbulence the world is currently experiencing, one might reasonably assume that chimpanzees and other primates are likely to continue innovating in terms of both behavior and culture. According to Kalan, this is already happening.

“[This] can be observed in environments where human impact has drastically changed habitats in the last couple of decades or so, and the chimpanzees must adapt to such changes.” Kalan proceeded to describe how researchers have observed the primates changing their activity patterns, becoming more active during the nighttime and depending on human resources, such as agricultural crops, for sustenance.

Further, due to the chimps’ thermoregulatory behaviors, which the study also reviewed, climate change is likely to have a severely detrimental impact on these animals’ wellbeing. We may discover that these animals develop even more complex mechanisms to deal with heat stress, in addition to those they currently exercise.

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