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Study shows wild male chimpanzees use stolen food to win over the opposite sex


They say that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach and the same could be said for female chimpanzees. Researchers studying wild chimps in West Africa have discovered that males pinch desirable fruits from local farms and orchards as a means of attracting female mates. The study is published in the September 12 issue of the online, open-access journal PLoS ONE.

Lead researcher, Dr Kimberley Hockings from the University of Stirling's Department of Psychology said: "We believe the males may be using crop-raids as a way to advertise their prowess to other group-members, especially the opposite sex. Such daring behaviour certainly seems to be an attractive trait and possessing a sought-after food item, such as papaya, appears to draw even more positive attention from the females."

The study, which took place in the West African village of Bossou in the Republic of Guinea, is the only recorded example of regular sharing of plant foods by unrelated, non-provisioned wild chimpanzees.

Dr Hockings explained: "It is unusual behaviour as even though the major part of chimpanzees' diets consists of plant foods, wild plant food sharing (defined as an individual holding a food item but allowing another individual to consume part of that item) occurs infrequently. However, in chimpanzee communities that engage in hunting, meat is frequently used as a 'social tool' for nurturing alliances and social bonds.

This research shows that chimpanzees at Bossou use crop-raiding as an opportunity to obtain and share desirable foods, providing further insights into the evolutionary basis of human food sharing. In humans, the pursuit of certain foods is also strongly sex-biased; for example, it has been proposed that men in hunter-gatherer societies acquire large and risky-to-obtain food packages for social strategising and to garner attention."

The researchers found that adult males mainly shared the spoils of their crop-raids with females of reproductive age; particularly with a female within the group who took part in most consortships (where an adult female and an adult male chimpanzee move to the periphery of their community so that the male gains exclusive mating access).

Dr Hockings said: "The male who shared the most food with this female engaged in more consortships with her and received more grooming from her than the other males, even the alpha male. Therefore the male chimpanzees appear to be 'showing off' and trading their forbidden fruit for other currencies, i.e. 'food-for-sex and -grooming'."


Notes for the editors:

The study was carried out by the following researchers: Kimberley J. Hockings (University of Stirling), Tatyana Humle (University of Wisconsin-Madison), James R. Anderson (University of Stirling), Dora Biro (University Of Oxford), Claudia Sousa (New University of Lisbon), Gaku Ohashi (Kyoto University) and Tetsuro Matsuzawa (Kyoto University).

Wild chimpanzees have declined by more than 66% over the last 30 years, to a mere 200,000. Although the chimpanzees of Bossou are fortunate enough to be afforded a degree of protection and tolerance by local Manon people, other chimpanzee communities throughout Africa are not so privileged. Chimpanzees and other non-human primates are threatened by an intricate web of factors including unrelenting deforestation and fragmentation, poaching, disease, and capture for the pet trade, all of which threaten their long-term survival in the wild. These are human problems, the solutions to which will benefit both people and chimpanzees.

Cultivated plant foods are shared much more frequently than wild plant foods at Bossou, even though adult male chimpanzees often appear nervous when raiding crops (rough scratching, a self-directed behavioural pattern shown in response to anxiety, was used to quantify levels of anxiety). The shared cultivated fruits are usually large and easily divisible, and adult males are most likely to share such foods obtained in exposed locations and in the presence of local people (which is also associated with increased levels of anxiety).


The following press release refers to an upcoming article in PLoS ONE. The release has been provided by the article authors and/or their institutions. Any opinions expressed in this are the personal views of the contributors, and do not necessarily represent the views or policies of PLoS. PLoS expressly disclaims any and all warranties and liability in connection with the information found in the release and article and your use of such information.


Dr Kimberley Hockings
Department of Psychology, University of Stirling
Tel (mobile): +44 7779 155 503

Citation: Hockings KJ, Humle T, Anderson JR, Biro D, Sousa C, et al (2007) Chimpanzees Share Forbidden Fruit. PLoS ONE 2(9): e886. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0000886 PLEASE ADD THE LINK TO THE PUBLISHED ARTICLE IN ONLINE VERSIONS OF YOUR REPORT:


Supporting Movie S1: (Caption: "An adult male chimpanzee crop-raiding papaya fruit. Adult male chimpanzees are most likely to share cultivated plant foods obtained in exposed locations and in the presence of people.") This video forms part of the published paper and is covered by a Creative Commons Attribution License. Any use should include citation of the authors and paper as the original source.

Supporting Movie S2: (Caption: "An adult male chimpanzee shares papaya fruit with an adult female. Cultivar food sharing at Bossou is the only recorded example of regular food sharing between unrelated and non-provisioned wild chimpanzees.") This video forms part of the published paper and is covered by a Creative Commons Attribution License. Any use should include citation of the authors and paper as the original source.

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