Curious Cures

david attenborough with monkey medicine

Monkey medicine has always been a very popular research project here at Living Links. It features in our learning resources, we worked with the Edinburgh International Science Festival in 2014 to run an event called Wild Medicine and now our researchers have inputted their work into this David Attenborough documentary.

On Monday March 2nd at 9pm Natural Curiosities – Curious Cures (Series 3, Episode 5) will be aired on ‘Watch’ (Sky 109, Virgin Media 124).

The first half of the documentary will discuss the amazing sunscreen adaptations that hippos have, and the second part will focus on how primates, specifically capuchins use pungent materials to prevent insect bites.

Watch our mini documentary below to see what smelly items our Living Links capuchins like to use!

Calling all Animal Behaviour Scientists

presnts monkeys cropDo you research animal cognition and behaviour? Do you love what you do? Then why not tell visitors at RZSS – Edinburgh Zoo how cool it is? The Living Links Public Engagement Prize is a new competition aimed at animal behaviour researchers. It is being run as part of our ‘Animal Cultures’ event in the Edinburgh International Science Festival.

The idea is simple. We give you a soapbox at the Zoo and three minutes to talk about your research. There’s no PowerPoint, no projector and only the props that you can carry and the zoo’s animals behind you. Zoo visitors will be able to vote for their favourite speaker; at the end of the weekend (April 18th-19th) we’ll total the visitors’ votes and crown our winner.

The soapbox stage will be moved around the zoo and we’ll aim to put you next to the species that you study (don’t worry if we don’t have your species, we’ll find a relevant alternative). We want as broad a range of species and topics as possible, as long as your research is on some aspect of animal behaviour, we wanMeerkat_0006t you.

See the zoo’s animal collection by clicking the link below

http://www.edinburghzoo.org.uk/animals-attractions/animals/

What’s the point of doing this?

RZSS – Edinburgh Zoo attracts around 650,000 visitors each year, this is your chance to tell some of them about your research and why it is so interesting. It’s a great opportunity for you to raise the profile of your work and of yourself.

It is also a chance to develop important public engagement and presentation skills (once you’ve done a talk with a gibbon calling in the background, that conference audience won’t seem so scary!). With public engagement becoming ever more important in funding and fellowship applications, you’ll have a head-start on building that experience.

I’m sold! How do I take part?

The first stage is to send tokaus a recording of yourself talking about your research for three minutes (don’t worry we’ll give you a few seconds margin of error). You can film this on a smartphone or with a webcam. We’re not looking for spectacular camerawork or an Oscar-winning sound track, we want to see you talking with passion about your subject. As we have limited slots at the zoo, we will choose our finalists based on their videos.

Use We Transfer to send your entry to education@living-links.org by 27 March 2015. The finalists will be informed in the first week of April with the time of their talk. Videos will be judged on how well the research is presented and how engaging the presenter is. Please remember that you will be talking to a family audience, we won’t discriminate against any topic, but please bear this in mind when you are preparing your talk.

 

Finalists will get free entry to the zoo on the day of their talk and there is a £50 voucher (and personal glory) for the winner.

If you have any questions, please be in touch with Lewis Dean at lgd1@st-andrews.ac.uk or Alaina Macri amacri@rzss.org.uk

Note – Living Links has been used as an example of good practice by NCCPE

‘I wanna talk like you’ – New chimp arrivals pick up the same calls as Edinburgh Zoo’s old residents.

louis by jamie norris

New research led by scientists from the University of York and the University of Zurich provide the first evidence that chimpanzees can ‘learn’ calls that refer to particular objects.

The paper by Watson, SK., Townsend, SW, Schel, AM., Wilke, C., Wallace, EK., Cheng, L., West, V. and Slocombe, KE. ‘Vocal Learning in the Functionally Referential Food Grunts of Chimpanzees’ has just been published in Current Biology.

Over many years researchers here at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo have been studying the various food calls of our chimpanzees. Dr Katie Slocombe, one of the senior scientists on this recently released paper has been involved in researching Edinburgh’s chimpanzees since 2002, so she and her colleagues have gathered a great wealth of knowledge on our troop.

If you are a regular follower of this blog or a visitor to Edinburgh Zoo you may know that in 2010 a new group of adult chimpanzees from Beekse Bergen Safari Park in the Netherlands were integrated with our Edinburgh chimpanzees. These new additions to our troop gave researchers a unique opportunity to investigate whether chimpanzees can change their food calls when they become incorporated into a new group.

Chimpanzees give distinct grunts when they find different types of food, and other chimpanzees understand the meaning of those grunts. They will give a high pitched sound for a preferred food and lower for less preferred item. Katie, Stuart and their colleagues found before integration the animals had different grunts for apples as well as different preferences for apples. They discovered that the Dutch chimpanzees modified their grunts referring to apples so that, three years after integration of the two groups, their calls were very similar to those produced by the resident Edinburgh chimpanzees.

Does this mean our Dutch chimps have learnt to speak Scottish?

Want to learn more about how we study chimpanzee communication, watch one of our learning resources videos.

 

or click on this BBC news link below to hear more about this amazing research and what our zoo visitors think too!

 

 

 

Comparing sharing behaviour in chimpanzees, capuchins and humans

chimps and monkeys can learn to be kind blog

Sharing is a prosocial behaviour, one that individuals do to benefit others. Living Links researchers and others from American institutes have recently published a paper looking at how these three species compare.

The main aims of the research were to;

1 – Compare the ability to be prosocial in chimpanzees, capuchins and humans of various ages by using the same method across all three species.

2 – Investigate if experiencing prosocial behaviour will then in turn influence individuals to be more prosocial.

capuchin using shelfThe apparatus that was used in the study has been nick named the ‘Shelfish Apparatus’. The device has two sliding shelves with rewards on them of varying levels (i.e. some high food rewards and some low food rewards). One primate has the power to pull the shelf where the other will just receive what the other primate has chosen in the pull.

Note: Stickers were used in the human test scenarios instead of food items.

In the first part of the study where the species were compared against each other they tested various scenarios. In all cases the puller was always given 2 shelves with rewards of the same value, the receiver side had the varying levels of rewards.

Some of the scenarios they tested were;

Empty control - They could pull the shelf towards them to receive a reward with no one next to them.

Prosocial option – They could pull the shelves with a neighbour there to also receive a reward.

The results showed the most significant prosocial behaviours occurred in separated chimpanzees when they received a more preferred food reward.

Adult humans would still pull the shelf with a more preferred reward for their partner even if they received a less preferred reward themselves.

Finally like the chimpanzees, the older human children were only significantly prosocial when they received a more preferred reward.

As for our capuchins…well when they were tested in the prosocial condition they only gave the receiver a more preferred food reward by chance.

chimps human kids

In the second part of the study our researchers wanted to find out if experiencing prosocial behaviour would then encourage and individual to then become more prosocial.

They tested this in a very clever way that took out the chances of the prosocial behaviour just being reciprocal. The experiments were run in three phases with chimps, children and capuchins.

In the first phase was done the same as the prosocial condition in the above tests. The second phase let them experience another primate that was always prosocial to them and then third they were retested with their original partner.

3 phases of prosocial testchimps and kids after experience prosocial

In this study chimpanzees were significantly more likely to be prosocial after they experienced someone being prosocial to them. This was also true for the children aged 7 and older. Both the capuchins and younger children were still only demonstrating prosocial behaviour by chance.

So what do these results mean in terms of the evolution of prosocial behaviours?

One of the authors on the paper, Professor Whiten states:

“We believe our study is the first to demonstrate that the prosocial behaviour of humans and non-human primates is shaped by the everyday social actions of those around them. Kindness may thrive, evolve and inspire when helping, sharing or donating are part of the cultural experience.”

To read the full article click on the reference link below.

Claidiere, N., Whiten, A., Mareno, M.C., Messer, E.J.E., Brosnan, S.F., Hopper, L.M. Lambeth, S.P., Schapiro, S.J. & McGuigan, N. (2015). Selective and contagious prosocial resource donation in capuchin monkeys, chimpanzees and humans. Scientific Reports, 5: 7631. DOI: 10.1038/srep07631

MOOC filmed at the Zoo

MOOC 2

Have you ever taken a MOOC, a Massive Open Online Course? MOOCs are open access, unlimited participation courses that you can take from many leading Universities.

University of Edinburgh lecturers Dr Kenny Smith and Dr Suilin Lavelle filmed here at Edinburgh Zoo this summer to highlight many aspects of their course.

The full online MOOC entitled Philosophy and the Sciences is 8 weeks long and is split in 2 parts.

1.Philosophy of Physical Sciences

2.Philosophy of Cognitive Sciences

The discussions and topics in Part 2 are wonderfully highlighted by our capuchins and chimpanzees here in Living Links and the Budongo Trail.

Kenny and Suilin discuss how animals  have not only evolved by physically adapting to their environment but also mentally.  In addition they discuss how social learning can create animal traditions or cultures. Cultures such as different means of using tools in various chimpanzee or capuchin groups.

 

Click on the link below to sign up to the MOOC!

https://www.coursera.org/course/philsci

Baby Squirrel Monkeys are quick to learn the ropes at Living Links

squirrel monkey babies 2014

The Living Links staff and researchers are enjoying the youthful energy of the four newest members of the West troop of squirrel monkeys.

Loki was born in June and Norrisaur, Sofia and Gonzo were born in September this year. Loki has already been showing her cheeky personality by swinging through the enclosure and trying to get the scientists’ attention by jumping into research areas whenever they open the doors.  In fact her personality is what inspired her name ‘Loki’ is the Nordic God of mischief.

It is wonderful to see such enthusiasm for the research from the young monkeys, in fact Loki made her first appearance in the cubicles when she was only 3 days old when her mother Jasmine brought her in. There is no doubt in our researchers’ and keepers’ minds that she will be a keen student and participate well in our learning tasks in the future.

Some of our past squirrel monkey projects have involved learning shapes on touch screens, simple monkey maths and the use of food puzzle boxes. Keep an eye on this blog, our twitter account or now our brand new facebook page to hear more about the amazing monkeys and the research work.

RZSS Living Links Facebook

RZSS Living Links Twitter

 

Animal Cultures at the Great British Bioscience Festival

From the 14th to the 16th of November the Living Links and St Andrews University researchers attended the Great British Bioscience Festival held in London.

Our stand entitled Animal Cultures demonstrated a wide variety of cultural research conducted with many species including; humpback whales, crows, meerkats and of course our Living Links monkeys.

Don’t worry if you didn’t make it to the festival many of our videos from the stall are available online

animal cultures chimps video shot

 

 

 

 

 

and the ‘When in Rome…’ interactive is also available

when rome screen shot 2

 

 

 

 

 

The event was a huge success with over 6,500 people visiting the marquee over the 3 days. Click on our gallery to see our researchers in action.

erica at gbbf

 

Monkey Personality in Glitter Poo?

glitter poo montage

Fig 1 surveysAn animal’s personality can be defined as a consistent pattern of behaviour and thinking.

Twenty of our squirrel monkeys have been personality surveyed by our keepers. This entails the keepers giving our monkeys scores on certain characteristics in their behaviours. For example they look at traits such as sociability, curiousity and timidity (Fig 1).fig 2 factor charts

These traits can then be categorised into broad personality factors. For humans we have five recognised personality factors, whereas the squirrel monkeys are seen to have four (Fig 2).

Some of our squirrel monkeys like Ellie and Georgette (Fig.3) have scored high in assertiveness, whereas others like Toomi and Salvador have scored higher in impulsiveness.

fig 3 monkeys assertive

 

You are probably wondering ‘when does the poo come into this story?’ And the answer is now.

 

 

Vanessa Wilson from Edinburgh University has gained the personality profiles of our monkeys from the zoo keepers’ surveys. What she can now look to see is if these match up with specific genes in the monkeys’ DNA.  The way we get the DNA from the monkeys is by sampling their faeces.glitter poo sandwiches 2

To be sure we match up the right monkey to the correct faecal sample we need to add a marker to their food. Glitter is perfect for this, in fact silver and green glitter seem to work the best (Fig. 4).

What we are looking for in the DNA fig 5of our monkeys are variations in some very specific genes. The ones in question are named DRD4, 5HTT and MAOA.  These genes are directly linked with either dopamine or serotonin systems in the brain (Fig 5).

Dopamine and serotonin play a large role in animal behaviour and personality, so differences in these genes may allow us to see why some of our animals have different personality types.

2 pink beads east PelusaSimilar research has taken place with other animals too, including elephants, orangutans, and dogs. The more species we study, the greater understanding we will have on the connections between animal genes and behaviour. This knowledge can then help us to ensure genetic diversity in captive breeding programmes as well as tailoring or animal care procedures for specific personality types.

 

 

 

Chimp culture seen in ‘real time’

Photo by Cat Hobatier

Researchers, including Dr Catherine Hobaiter from the University of St Andrews, have observed the spread of a new tool being invented and used by a group of wild chimpanzees. This is the first time that researchers have been able to track the spread of a natural behaviour from individual to individual in the wild.

Whilst watching chimpanzees in the Sonso community in the Budongo Forest extracting water from a hole in the forest, the researchers noticed two things that they had never seen before in that group – the use of moss to form sponges and the reuse of leaf sponges. Chimpanzees in the Sonso community regularly form bundles of leaves to soak up water, but the use of moss was novel. By using a statistical technique called network-based diffusion analysis the researchers were able to track the spread of the behaviour from the alpha male who first used it, to other individuals who had been watching him.

The study is published in PLOS Biology and can be found online here. There will be more information about chimpanzee cultures and how we can trace the spread of new behaviours using social networks on the Animal Cultures stand in November.

Animal Cultures at Edinburgh Zoo

P1010604This week the science exhibit Animal Cultures is at Edinburgh Zoo. It is based in the Budongo Trail, where you will also see our resident chimpanzees (including the two-month old baby – Velu) Have a go at a chimp puzzle, while they watch you. Will you be as good as a chimp at learning how to find the hidden food?

Explore how researchers from Scotland and further P1010609afield have used  thousands of hours of observations, advanced gadgetry and fun experiments to work out how animals, from guppies to capuchins monkeys, learn from each other and form traditions. You can try your hand at recording the behaviour of vervet monkeys, attempt to hook out some delicious grubs using crow tools and see how meerkats teach their young to catch deadly scorpions.

The stand will be in Budongo Trail lecture theatre from 10.00 to 16.00 until Sunday 28 September. Each day researchers from the projects featured in the exhibit will be on hand to explain what they do and answer all your questions.