Monkeys, Apes and Me: Research Talks at the Zoo

Guest Blog Post by Emmie Bryant, PhD student and the University of St Andrews

Emmie Bryant

Emmie Bryant

Here at Living Links and Budongo Trail, we are proud that our research is visible to our visitors, demonstrating that our work is not invasive or detrimental to our primates and engaging the general public with current scientific research. However, in the short time a visitor spends in Living Links, only a snapshot of what we do can be seen.

That’s why on Wednesday 1st July 2015, a group of researchers at Living Links and Budongo Trail took to the Budongo Lecture Theatre to discuss their findings. Opening with an introduction from the Director of Living Links, Professor Andy Whiten, and chaired by the Deputy Director, Dr Amanda Seed, the event went on to enlighten all attending about the variety of research taking place at Living Links.

Dr Lara Wood, the Research Coordinator at Living Links and a postdoctoral researcher at the University of St Andrews, gave a visual tour of cubicle research at Living Links and explained how a series of puzzle-like tasks may help to find out if capuchin monkeys could build upon their existing knowledge to solve more complicated problems. Zita Polgár, an MSc student at the University of Edinburgh, introduced her observational work on the squirrel monkeys. Does squirrel monkey personality influence the interaction time with visitors at the viewing window? Although no specific effects of personality were apparent, a greater level of interaction between monkeys and larger groups of visitors was observed, suggesting that the monkeys might enjoy visitors!

Dr Lewis Dean, another postdoctoral researcher at the University of St Andrews, took a different approach and introduced us to a lesser-known form of research we do here: work with children! Thousands of children visit Edinburgh Zoo every year, and it is interesting for researchers to look at how essential human cognitive skills develop in our early years, potentially giving us insight into the minds of our primate relatives. Lewis’ experiment involved giving a large and complicated puzzle to small groups of children at a time, then gradually swapping new children into the group to see if the information gained would be passed along and help the group solve the more complicated levels.

A slide from Hannah Buchanan-Smith's talk concerning possible Living Links with wild field sites

A slide from Hannah Buchanan-Smith’s talk concerning possible Living Links with wild field sites

Rounding off the event, an exciting and promising new enterprise was pitched by Professor Hannah Buchanan-Smith and her PhD student, Sophia Daoudi, from the University of Stirling. Our Budongo Trail research facility is twinned with a wild chimpanzee research field station in the Budongo Forest of Uganda. As yet, Living Links has no wild counterpart. Hannah and Sophia described plans for a potential field site in Suriname, where researchers could go and study wild brown capuchins and squirrel monkeys. Subject to support from appropriate bodies, this could be a fantastic new avenue for us. We are very excited at the prospect of “Living Wild Links”, so watch this space!

This event is held annually, so if you missed it this time around, keep your eyes peeled for next year’s talks when we’ll have a fresh batch of research to tell you about!


Please enter a caption, or a comment about the project

 

 

Aubrey Manning Retires as Living Links Board Chairman

image002Prof. Andrew Whiten, Director of Living Links, hands Prof. Aubrey Manning a gift  to thank him for his services as Chairman of the Living Links/Budongo Consortium Board. Aubrey has chaired the Board since Living Links opened in 2008, and is now stepping down. Prof. Alan Miller, FRSE has agreed to take the chair. Alan was Vice Principal for Research at St Andrews at the time Living Links was being set up and has recently retired as Deputy Principal at Heriot Watt University.

Not a Case of ‘Opposites Attract’ for our Monkeys

Popeye & PenelopeA recently published study has shown that monkeys with similar personalities are more likely to have better relationships than those with very different personality traits. Some of the key indicators that were connected with how strong their relationships were linked to their levels of openess and sociability.

In order to determine the monkeys’ individual personality differences the researchers used a 54 trait personality questionnaire that the zookeepers completed for each monkey. Then to determine the quality of their relationships they conducted behaviour observations.

The behaviour study included noting how much time the monkeys would spend together, as well as what they were doing when they were together (e.g. aggression, food sharing, grooming etc).

In addition puzzle feeders were added into the enclosure to see if the monkey pairs showed symmetry in their behaviour to use the device or avoid it.blake apparatus2

While watching the monkeys Dr Morton noted high levels of affiliative behaviour between Popeye and Penelope (pictured above), as well as high levels of symmetry in their behaviours around the puzzle feeder. Interestingly, these two monkeys also had similar personality traits appearing in their scores from the keeper surveys.

The results remained true even when other factors such as sex, age and rank were controlled for. These findings mean that their personalities may play a role in the quality of their relationships beyond that of status and kinship.

Morton, F.B., Weiss, A. Buchanan-Smith, and Lee, P.C (2015). Capuchin monkeys with similar personalities have higher quality relationships independent of age, sex, kinship and rank. Animal Behaviour.105, pp. 163 -171.

And the Winner Is…

During the Edinburgh International Science Festival we hosted an amazing event here at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo. It involved having our Animal Cultures stand up in Budongo Trail, a interactive trail around the zoo and a fierce competition of 6 soap box scientists all competing for the Living Links Public Engagement Prize. We are now happy to announce our winner is Dr Jill MacKay from Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC).

Jill MacKay Banner

Jill explained the science of animal personality to our visitors by giving a great example about how some lions can be bold and some can be shy. She discussed how we can assess this scientifically by using novel object tests and then compare the reactions of a variety of individual lions to then give us a scale of boldness or shyness in lions.

Watch Jill’s talk now.

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