PhD project: The effects of water shortage on female chimpanzee social behaviour in the Budongo forest
Female chimpanzees, first thought to be a lot less social than males, do associate with other members of their communities beyond their immediate families. They have social hierarchies, form long-term, stable social bonds with other female chimpanzees, and occupy and defend their own core areas within a community’s home range. Ecological and demographic factors, such as overall community size, sex ratio within a community, predation risk and food competition seem to influence their level of gregariousness. However, no study has investigated the effects of water availability as an ecological factor – communities studied so far all had relatively stable water availability year-round, with food being the only seasonally changing resource: however, a lack of water might disrupt the structure of female core areas and therefore affect the social behaviour of females.
This study will focus on the Waibira community of East African chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) living in the Budongo Forest Reserve, Uganda – despite being a rainforest-dwelling community, they experience considerable water shortage during the annual dry season, as the creek running through their territory dries up leaving one small waterhole. The study will explore how female ranging in core areas, social behaviour and rank order is influenced by this seasonally recurring water shortage, using data from focal follows of individual chimpanzees, camera trap videos, as well as weather and phenology data.
The project will further explore female social behaviour in chimpanzees and how a resource shortage other than food impacts it. The results can also be extrapolated to other primates with female dispersal, including both extinct and extant human species. Investigating the effects of water shortage in living primates can also help us understand the behavioural and cognitive changes ancient hominins could have gone through after moving to open woodlands from rainforest habitats during evolution.
University of Kent, Vice-Chancellor's Research Scholarship