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Barbara Fruth

Behavioural Ecology & Evolutionary Anthropology

As the least discovered great ape species, Bonobos (Pan paniscus) are of particular interest for research as they show a series of traits that are unusual not only for non-human primates but also for social mammals in general. We investigate some of their striking peculiarities that challenge biological paradigms, such as their

  1. social organisation, with cooperation and bonding among females despite exogamy and thus a low degree of relatedness, and lack of cooperation among males despite male philopatry;
  2. dominance relations, with females being dominant over males or co-dominant with males despite male biased sexual-dimorphism in body mass and canine size;
  3. mating behaviour, with a broad spectrum of sexual interactions including social sex, and sex independent of fertile cycles;
  4. aggression, with within-group and between-group conflicts independent of the sex and age of the individuals involved solved rather moderately;

We explore the functional significance of the related behavioural traits bonobos have developed in order to cope with the environmental and social constrains they face.

pictures by Barbara Fruth

In addition, we are interested in the role of Bonobos in their natural habitat, the evergreen lowland rainforests of the Cuvette Centrale. We investigate their

  1. food repertory with particular focus on plants used for medicinal purpose;
  2. role as seed disperser and seed predator;
  3. density and distribution within and outside the study site.

 pictures by Barbara Fruth

Research is conducted at LuiKotale, our field site at the South Western fringe of Salonga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). We have habituated two communities of wild bonobos to the presence of researchers. Group members are individually known and genotyped. Data come from systematic behavioural observations of focal individuals, non-invasive collection of samples such as urine, faeces, and hair for physiological reference, ecological investigations, as well as taxonomic and phytochemic investigations of plants.


PD Dr. Barbara Fruth