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Press releases (archive)
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In violent intergroup conflicts between chimpanzee groups the hormone oxytocin enhances the social affiliation among members of the same group
The high costs of individuals going to war is perplexing. Individuals are willing to suffer costs in order to benefit their own group, through cooperating and supporting their fellow group members and acting with hostility towards the out-group. Although aggressive, these conflicts are also known to enhance the sense of group belonging and promote social cohesion and affiliation among group members, essential aspects of successful competition with out-groups. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have measured the concentration of the hormone oxytocin in the urine of wild chimpanzees before and during intergroup conflicts and found that their social affiliations enable chimpanzees, too, to stand by each other against rivals.
Findings from Lapa do Santo show oldest evidence in the continent of humans performing elaborated funerary rituals based on the manipulation and reduction of fresh corpses and the reorganization of body parts
In eastern South America skeletal remains dating to 10,000 years ago are rare, precluding the proper study of their ritual dimensions. In a study published this week in the journal Antiquity an international research team led by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, present their new findings on 26 human burials that date to this period and had been discovered at the archaeological cave site Lapa do Santo in east central Brazil.
Max Planck researchers found chimpanzees routinely fish for algae during the dry season in Bakoun, Guinea, using long and robust sticks as a tool
Chimpanzees often use tools to extract or consume food but which tools they choose for which purpose can differ depending on where they live. In 2010, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, initiated the ‘Pan African Programme: The Cultured Chimpanzee’ to characterize and understand the differences in chimpanzee behaviours in un- and poorly studied ape populations across Africa. This is how the researchers encountered a new behavioural variant: Algae fishing with long robust tools at a temporary research site in Bakoun, Guinea.
Support from family and friends significantly reduces stress in wild chimpanzees – during conflicts with rival groups and during everyday affiliation
In humans and other social animals stress is associated with poor health and high mortality. These negative effects can be buffered by receiving social support from relatives or friends. However, the mechanisms responsible for this effect remain largely unknown. A team led by Roman Wittig, Catherine Crockford and Tobias Deschner from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, has studied how wild chimpanzees cope with stressful and non-stressful situations when a close bond partner is present or absent. They measured the animals’ urinary stress hormone levels during episodes of intergroup conflict, grooming and resting and found that the support of a friend significantly reduced the chimpanzees’ stress hormone levels, especially in situations of conflict. But even during affiliative activities with the bond partner stress levels were generally lower. Daily supportive actions by friends and family maybe key to regulating stress hormone activity, and thus the negative effects of stress, a finding with potential medical implications for humans.
Ancient Britons' teeth reveal people were 'highly mobile' 4,000 years ago
Archaeologists have created a new database from the teeth of prehistoric humans found at ancient burial sites in Britain and Ireland that tell us a lot about their climate, their diet and even how far they may have travelled. In a paper, led by Maura Pellegrini from the University of Oxford, researchers say that individuals in prehistoric Britain were highly mobile. The international team included researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
Bonobos, chimpanzees and orangutans understand that others can be convinced of something that is not true
We all know that the way someone sees the world, and the way it really is, are not always the same. This ability to recognize that someone’s beliefs may differ from reality has long been seen as unique to humans. But new research on chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans suggests our primate relatives may also be able to tell when something is just in your head. The study was led by researchers of Duke University, Kyoto University, the University of St. Andrews and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
First in-depth comparison of human and chimpanzee neural stem cells uncovers unexpected differences
Our similarities and differences to chimpanzees, our great ape cousins, have intrigued people for centuries. Of particular interest is the brain. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden (MPI-CBG) and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig (MPI-EVA) now report the first detailed comparison of how human and chimpanzee stem cells form a cerebral cortex during brain development. They uncover a subtle but intriguing difference in how the cortical stem cells divide – the human cells take more time to arrange the chromosomes before they are distributed to the daughter cells. This may help to understand why human and chimpanzee brains develop differently.
Three-year-olds quickly absorb social norms. They even understand behaviors as rule-governed that are not subject to any norms, and insist that others adhere to these self-inferred “norms”.
In a study, recently published in the journal Psychological Science, Marco F. H. Schmidt, in collaboration with Lucas P. Butler (Assistant Professor at University of Maryland), Julia Heinz and Professor Michael Tomasello (Co-Director at Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig), now shows that three-year-olds not only learn social norms from direct instruction and prohibition – as traditionally assumed, but also seek norms themselves – even inferring them where adults see none.
Scientists find the greatest number of small ear ossicles known from Neandertals so far and compare them to the ossicles of modern humans
A research team led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology scanned the skulls of Neandertals and found the small middle ear ossicles, which are important for hearing, still preserved within the cavities of the ear. To their surprise, the Neandertal ossicles are morphologically distinct from the ossicles of modern humans. Despite the differences in morphology, the function of the middle ear is largely the same in the two human species. The authors relate the morphological differences in the ossicles to different evolutionary trajectories in brain size increase and suggest that these findings might be indicative of consistent aspects of vocal communication in modern humans and Neandertals. These findings are also of importance for shedding light on the emergence of human spoken language, which can only be inferred indirectly from the archaeological and fossil record.
Researchers decode ancient proteins of Châtelperronian Neandertals
The Châtelperronian of central France and northern Spain is critical to the debate regarding Neandertal cognition, their use of artefacts typically associated with modern humans and finally, their extinction. Despite intense research, the exact biological nature of the Châtelperronian people is still disputed and no direct molecular data for a Neandertal association with the Châtelperronian has been obtained. To solve this problem, an international research team utilized recent developments in ancient protein analysis, combined with multiple additional lines of evidence to demonstrate that the Châtelperronian hominins at the Grotte du Renne, an archaeological site from north central France, are Neandertals.
Ernst Schering Foundation awards Friedmund Neumann Prize 2016 to junior scientist Barbara Treutlein for her outstanding work on single cell transcriptomics analysis
During human development, stem cells differentiate into many different cell types that build and determine the function of complex organs. Previous studies have provided only limited insights into the genetic programs that control organ development. By adapting the methodology of single cell transcriptomics analysis, junior scientist Dr. Barbara Treutlein from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig for the first time made it possible to perform genome-wide measurements of genetic expression in unprecedented resolution on the single cell level. In her research, she applies this method to understand the genetic foundations of organogenesis, i.e. the process by which cells differentiate into organs, and to make possible their in-vitro recreation under controlled conditions. In her lab, Dr. Treutlein grows hepatic and cerebral organoids and compares them with real organ tissue.
Orangutan Rocky could provide the key to understanding how speech in humans evolved from the time of the ancestral great apes
Previously it was thought that great apes – our closest relatives – could not learn to produce new sounds and because speech is a learned behaviour it could not have originated from them. In an imitation “do-as-I-do” game, eleven-year-old Rocky, who was eight at the time of the research, was able to copy the pitch and tone of sounds made by researchers to make vowel-like calls. The discovery, led by Durham University, UK, shows that orangutans could have the ability to control their voices. Alexander Mielke of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, was part of the international research team.
1.5-million-year-old footprints provide window to the life of Homo erectus
Fossil bones and stone tools can tell us a lot about human evolution, but certain dynamic behaviours of our fossil ancestors – things like how they moved and how individuals interacted with one another – are incredibly difficult to deduce from these traditional forms of paleoanthropological data. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, along with an international team of collaborators, have recently discovered multiple assemblages of Homo erectus footprints in northern Kenya that provide unique opportunities to understand locomotor patterns and group structure through a form of data that directly records these dynamic behaviours. Using novel analytical techniques, they have demonstrated that these H. erectus footprints preserve evidence of a modern human style of walking and a group structure that is consistent with human-like social behaviours.
An international team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and the Félix Houphouët Boigny University in Abidjan, Ivory Coast were the first to explore an alternative way to gain insight into what nutritional aspects of natural food sources are important and preferred by wild foragers by combining analyses on the ranging patterns of wild chimpanzees. For this, the researchers followed five adult female chimpanzees from Taï National Park, Côte d’Ivoire, for more than 275 days and tested the relationship between the changes in travel direction that occurred on the chimpanzees daily travel paths and the nutritional aspects of the fruit species that they feed on and the trees’ characteristics. They found that chimpanzees were more likely to aim their travel towards fruit-bearing trees belonging to rare tree species and trees that provided fruits with high amounts of fat, sugar and fiber, such as nuts.
Sexual swellings are unreliable signals of fertility in female bonobos
In several species of primates, males often discern when to mate with a female based on cyclical changes in the size and firmness of her sexual swelling – a visual signal of a female’s probability to conceive. In a study of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, primatologist Pamela Heidi Douglas and colleagues investigated for the first time the relationship between ovarian hormones and sexual swellings in wild female bonobos. The likelihood that a female bonobo ovulates during her maximum swelling phase is much lower than in the closely related chimpanzees. Swellings are thus no reliable fertility signal for males and allow females to follow their own agenda when choosing a mate.
Our closest relatives were born with wide bodies and robust bones
If a Neandertal were to sit down next to us on the underground, we would probably first notice his receding forehead, prominent brow ridges and projecting, chinless face. Only on closer inspection would we notice his wider and thicker body. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig have now investigated whether the differences in physique between Neandertals and modern humans are genetic or caused by differences in lifestyle. Their analysis of two well-preserved skeletons of Neandertal neonates shows that Neandertals’ wide bodies and robust bones were formed by birth.
Researchers paint a genetic portrait of Ice Age Europe
By analyzing genome-wide data from the remains of 51 humans who lived between 45,000 and 7,000 years ago, an international research team has provided the first vivid look at the genetic history of modern humans in Europe before the introduction of farming. The team’s findings, published May 2 in Nature, reveal the disappearance and reappearance of a group that formed part of the ancestry of today’s Europeans, describe when and how Europeans acquired DNA from people in the Near East and show that the amount of Neanderthal DNA in modern human genomes has shrunk over the millennia, likely because the DNA was evolutionarily disadvantageous.
Five-year-olds affect the reputation of others through gossip
When it comes to selecting a cooperation partner, information about another person’s reputation – for example as a generous person or a miser – may come handy. Many animal species make reputation judgements, but only humans use gossip to pass on evaluative social information about others. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, show that five-year-olds but not three-year-olds reliably engage in such prosocial gossip.
Tooth-marks on a 500,000-year-old femur from Morocco indicate hominin hunting or scavenging by large carnivores
An international team of researchers including Camille Daujeard of the Muséum National D'Histoire Naturelle in Paris, France, and Jean-Jacques Hublin of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, analyzed tooth-marks on a 500,000-year-old hominin femur bone from a Moroccan cave and found that it had been consumed by large carnivores, likely hyenas.
Researchers find differences between ethnic groups living as farmers and those engaged in traditional hunter-gatherer activities
Scientists have long thought that the rate with which mutations occur in the genome does not depend on cultural factors. The results of a current study suggest this may not be the case. A team of researchers from France and Germany analysed more than 500 sequences of the male Y-chromosome in southern African ethnic groups living as farmers and in population groups engaged in traditional hunter-gatherer activities. The study found that the agriculturalists had a comparatively higher rate of change than the hunter-gatherers did. The researchers explain this by the significantly older average age of paternity among the agriculturalists. Furthermore, the study finds a much older age for the most recent common ancestor of the human Y-chromosome than was previously assumed.
More local adaptations in European genes were contributed by Stone Age hunters than farmers
Modern humans have adapted to their local environments over many thousands of years, but how genetic variation contributed to this adaptation remains debated. Using genomes from humans that lived between 45,000 and 7,000 years ago, researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig have shown that adaptation to local environments has resulted in genetic variants reaching high frequencies in European groups. Interestingly, most of the adaptive variants were present already in an early hunter-gatherer, but not in an early farmer. This suggests that hunter-gatherers, who lived in Europe for thousands of years before the arrival of farmers, were adapted to local environments and contributed adaptive genetic variants to present-day Europeans.
Analysis of nuclear DNA from Sima de los Huesos hominins provides evidence of their relationship to Neandertals
Previous analyses of the hominins from Sima de los Huesos in 2013 showed that their maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA was distantly related to Denisovans, extinct relatives of Neandertals in Asia. This was unexpected since their skeletal remains carry Neandertal-derived features. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have since worked on sequencing nuclear DNA from fossils from the cave, a challenging task as the extremely old DNA is degraded to very short fragments. The results now show that the Sima de los Huesos hominins were indeed early Neandertals. Neandertals may have acquired different mitochondrial genomes later, perhaps as the result of gene flow from Africa.
More Sumatran orangutans live in the wild than previously thought, yet continuing deforestation is likely to substantially reduce their number
Sumatran orangutans, one of the two existing species of orangutans, live exclusively in the North of the Indonesian island Sumatra and are critically endangered. This great ape is threatened by poaching and forest loss, as its habitat is being converted for agricultural purposes. An international team of researchers has now conducted an extensive series of surveys to estimate the number of Sumatran orangutans and discovered that about 14,600 of these animals still live in the wild today – 8,000 more than previously thought. Good news, however, the increase in numbers is due to a more wide-ranging survey effort and not to an increase in the orangutan population. Moreover, should the deforestation of the orangs’ habitat go ahead as planned, as many as 4,500 individuals could vanish by 2030. The researchers thus urge Sumatran national and provincial legislations to implement measures to avoid negative impacts on forests where orangutans occur.
Newly discovered stone tool-use behavior and accumulation sites in wild chimpanzees reminiscent to human cairns
Chimpanzees often use tools to extract or consume food. Which tools they choose for which purpose, however, can differ depending on the region where they live. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have thus initiated the ‘Pan African Programme: The Cultured Chimpanzee’ and, since 2010, have collected data on chimpanzee behavior, demography and resource availability across Africa following a standardized protocol. This is how the researchers encountered a thus far unknown behavior: In West Africa chimpanzees throw stones at trees resulting in conspicuous accumulations at these sites. Why exactly the animals do this the researchers do not yet know, yet the behavior appears to have some cultural elements.
Reintroduction of genetically distinct subspecies has led to hybridization in an endangered wild population
As their natural habitats continue to be destroyed, increasing numbers of displaced endangered mammals are taken to sanctuaries and rehabilitation centres worldwide. The ultimate goal of these centres is often reintroduction: to return these animals to wild populations. In a new study published today in Scientific Reports, however, Graham L Banes and Linda Vigilant of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, caution that such reintroductions can act as a form of genetic translocation. By using genetic analysis to assess a subset of historical reintroductions into Tanjung Puting National Park, Indonesia, they found that orang-utans from a non-native and genetically distinct subspecies were unwittingly released and have since hybridized with the Park’s wild population. As orang-utan subspecies are thought to have diverged around 176,000 years ago, with marked differentiation over the last 80,000 years, the researchers highlight the potential for negative effects on the viability of populations already under threat.
Researchers find evolution of human teeth to be much simpler than previously thought, and can predict the sizes of teeth missing from hominin fossils
A new study led by evolutionary biologist Alistair Evans of Monash University in Australia, took a fresh look at the teeth of humans and fossil hominins. The research confirms that molars, including ‘wisdom teeth’ do follow the sizes predicted by what is called ‘the inhibitory cascade’ – a rule that shows how the size of one tooth affects the size of the tooth next to it. This is important because it indicates that human evolution was a lot simpler than scientists had previously thought. The international team included researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.
Researchers find first genetic evidence of modern human DNA in a Neanderthal individual
Using several different methods of DNA analysis, an international research team has identified an interbreeding event between Neanderthals and modern humans that occurred an estimated 100,000 years ago, which is tens of thousands of years earlier than other such events previously documented. They suggest that some modern humans left Africa early and mixed with Neanderthals. These modern humans later became extinct and are therefore not among the ancestors of present-day people outside Africa who left Africa about 65,000 years ago.
To find energy-rich food, like tropical ripe fruit, is a challenge for chimpanzees
In our supermarkets we buy raspberries in winter and chestnuts in summer. But how challenging would life become, if we needed to consume large amounts of fruit for our daily meal and had to collect them ourselves? With a largely plant-based diet, simple stomachs, and the additional cost of maintaining relatively large brains, chimpanzees face a serious challenge in their daily search for energy and nutrients. Using data on the monthly availability of young leaves, unripe and ripe fruits in three tropical rain forests in East, Central and West Africa, a consortium of researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, Harvard University, McGill University, the University of St. Andrews and the Université Félix Houphouët Boigny, estimated how difficult it is for chimpanzees to find food and to predict its availability in individual trees. This study reports which cognitive strategies chimpanzees can use to gain privileged access to the most energy-rich but ephemeral food.
Max Planck researchers found that our closest relatives, too, trust their friends
It almost goes without saying that trust is a defining element of genuine human friendship. Now, researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, suggest that the same holds true among chimpanzee pals. Their findings suggest that friendship based on trust has evolved much earlier than previously thought and is not unique to humans.
The mixing of archaic human forms played an important role in shaping the immune system of modern humans
When modern humans met Neanderthals in Europe and the two species began interbreeding many thousands of years ago, the exchange left humans with gene variations that have increased the ability of those who carry them to ward off infection. This inheritance from Neanderthals may have also left some people more prone to allergies. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and the Institut Pasteur and the CNRS in Paris, France, report about the discoveries in two independent studies, adding to evidence for an important role for interspecies relations in human evolution and specifically in the evolution of the innate immune system, which serves as the body's first line of defense against infection.
Researchers of the Department of Human Evolution at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from different Italian institutions, have uncovered evidence that strandings of different cetacean species increased in the Mediterranean as a result of environmental changes linked to the rapid climate change that took place around 8,200 years ago. The findings imply that abrupt climate change, of similar entity as worst-case scenarios for global warming, dramatically affects strandings and may represent a serious threat for cetaceans in the next few decades.
Sequencing of ancient DNA and genomes honoured as scientific breakthrough
One of the 2016 Breakthrough Prizes in Life Sciences was bestowed to Max Planck director Svante Pääbo for pioneering the sequencing of ancient DNA and ancient genomes, thereby illuminating the origins of modern humans, our relationships to extinct relatives such as Neanderthals, and the evolution of human populations and traits. The seven prizes, each endowed with 3 Million US dollars, were awarded on 8 November in Silicon Valley, USA.
Markers of diet and behaviour in chimpanzee dental calculus
Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have identified new information about chimpanzee diets and diet-related behaviours, based on the record of plant remains preserved in the dental calculus (calcified dental plaque) on the teeth of deceased individuals. The research team found that the plant remains recovered from the dental calculus record of wild Taï Forest Chimpanzees (Côte d’Ivoire) broadly match the feeding data collected over the past twenty years as part of the Taï Chimpanzee Project. Moreover, the plant remains may provide information on behaviours important in chimpanzee life histories. These life-history traits are otherwise largely invisible in populations where it is impossible to directly observe the individuals.
A 9,000 year-old case of human decapitation has been found in the rock shelter of Lapa do Santo in Brazil
Few Amerindian habits impressed the European colonizers more than the taking and displaying of human body parts, especially when decapitation was involved. Although disputed by some authors, it has become widely accepted that decapitation was common among Native Americans across the entire continent. The archaeological evidence confirms that the practice has deep chronological roots. In South America, the oldest decapitation occurred in the Andes and dates to ca. 3000 years before the present. Since all other South American archaeological cases occur in the Andes (e.g., Inca, Nazca, Moche, Wari, Tiwanaco) it was assumed that decapitation was an Andean phenomenon in both its origins and in its most unambiguous expression.
In order to communicate their intentions wild bonobos use referential gestural communication
Pointing and pantomime are important components of human communication but so far evidence for referential communication in animals is limited. Observations made by researchers Pamela Heidi Douglas and Liza Moscovice of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, make important contributions to this research topic: To solve social conflicts female bonobos invite other females to engage in a socio-sexual behavior by using pointing gestures and mimicking hip swings. This observation raises new questions about the evolution of referential communication and human language.
Researchers discover a new species of fossil human in a cave in South Africa
The discovery of a new species of human relative was announced today (Sept. 10) by the University of the Witwatersrand, the National Geographic Society and the South African Department of Science and Technology/National Research Foundation (DST/NRF). In addition to shedding new light on the origins and diversity of our genus, the new species, Homo naledi, appears to have intentionally deposited bodies of its dead in a remote cave chamber, a behavior previously thought limited to humans. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, took part in the research.
Michael Tomasello’s pioneering research on the origins of social cognition has led to revolutionary insights in both developmental psychology and primate cognition. His landmark studies of ape cognition reveal that primates have a richer understanding of the social world than previously thought. His studies of child language and social learning demonstrate the critical roles of human-specific social motivations. And his novel hypotheses about human cooperation have led to deeper insights into the fundamental differences between humans and apes. His ground-breaking theories and elegant methods have inspired generations of students. Max Planck director Michael Tomasello received the award during the annual meeting of the APA in Toronto in August 2015.
Dominant, cheek-padded orang-utan males are significantly more successful at fathering offspring – except in times of rank instability
Unlike most mammals, male orang-utans express one of two distinct morphological forms: some develop large “cheek pads” on their faces; others do not. A team of researchers led by Graham L. Banes and Linda Vigilant of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, studied the reproductive success of Kusasi, the former dominant male at Camp Leakey in Indonesia’s Tanjung Puting National Park and compared it with that of socially subordinate, non-cheek-padded males from the same area. To this aim the researchers collected faecal samples and performed paternity testing. They found that, during his decade as “king” of the jungle, Kusasi fathered significantly more offspring than any other male. Only during periods of rank instability, in the beginning and at the end of Kusasi’s dominance, did other males succeed in fathering offspring. The findings are published in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.
A genetic survey finds an unexpectedly large population of chimpanzees in forest fragments
By collecting faecal samples and analysing them genetically a team of researchers found three times more chimpanzees than expected in a series of patchy forest fragments near villages in Uganda. This finding suggests that chimpanzees can cope with habitat degradation better than expected, at least in the short term, but also highlights the importance of conservation strategies focused on protecting chimpanzees outside established national parks or reserves.
Headed by Professor Richard McElreath the Department of Human Behavior, Ecology and Culture is going to start its work at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI-EVA).
The new department will investigate the role of culture in human evolution and adaptation. The evolution of fancy social learning in humans accounts for both the nature of human adaptation and the extraordinary scale and variety of human societies. The integration of ethnographic fieldwork with mathematical models and advanced quantitative methods will be the department's methodological focus.
The kiwi, national symbol of New Zealand, gives insights into the evolution of nocturnal animals
Its unusual biological characteristics make the flightless kiwi a unique kind of bird. Researchers of the University of Leipzig and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have now sequenced the genetic code of this endangered species and have identified several sequence changes that underlie the kiwi’s adaptation to a nocturnal lifestyle: They found several genes involved in colour vision to be inactivated and the diversity of odorant receptors to be higher than in other birds - suggesting an increased reliance on their sense of smell rather than vision for foraging. The study was published in the journal “Genome Biology”.
Victoriapithecus had a small brain relative to its body size with an olfactory bulb about three times as large as that in present-day monkeys
The oldest known Old World monkey, Victoriapithecus, first made headlines in 1997 when its fossilized skull was discovered on an island in Kenya’s Lake Victoria, where it lived 15 million years ago. An international team led by Fred Spoor of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and University College London (UCL), UK, has now visualized this monkey’s brain for the first time: The creature’s tiny but remarkably wrinkled brain supports the idea that brain complexity can evolve before brain size in the primate family tree. Especially surprising was the size of the monkey’s olfactory bulb: It was three times larger in Victoriapithecus than in present-day monkeys of comparable body size.
Genetic analysis of a 40,000-year-old jawbone from Romania reveals that early modern humans interbred with Neandertals when they first came to Europe
Neandertals became extinct about 40,000 years ago but contributed on average one to three percent to the genomes of present-day Eurasians. Researchers have now analyzed DNA from a 37,000 to 42,000-year-old human mandible from Oase Cave in Romania and have found that six to nine percent of this person’s genome came from Neandertals, more than any other human sequenced to date. Because large segments of this individual’s chromosomes are of Neandertal origin, a Neandertal was among his ancestors as recently as four to six generations back in his family tree. This shows that some of the first modern humans that came to Europe mixed with the local Neandertals.
Young children are just as likely to respond to the needs of another individual as they are to their own
Toddlers have a reputation for being stubborn, selfish, and incapable of sharing. But researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig (Germany) and the University of Manchester (UK) have found that children as young as three actually will show a surprising level of concern for others and an intuitive sense of restorative justice. Young children prefer to return lost items to their rightful owners, the studies show. If for some reason that is not an option, young children will still prevent a third party from taking what does not belong to them. What is more, both three- and five-year-old children are just as likely to respond to the needs of another individual—even when that individual is a puppet—as they are to their own. The findings in young children from Germany offer new insight into the nature of justice itself, the researchers say.
Lake Mungo may have inspired Australians to reinvent boat use in the middle of the desert 24,000 years ago
Geologists and archaeologists from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (Germany), La Trobe University (Australia) and the University of Wollongong (Australia) identify previously unrecognised evidence for a "mega-lake" in the Australian desert 24,000 years ago, at the site of Lake Mungo in south-eastern Australia. This discovery holds significant implications for understanding past climate change. In addition, they present archaeological evidence which shows that people repeatedly visited an island stranded in the middle of the mega-lake. To this aim they likely reinvented boat use and came up with the idea rather quickly.
Modern humans occupied the Near East 45,900 years ago and colonized Europe from there
A multinational team led by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (Leipzig, Germany), working in collaboration with colleagues from the Universities of Leiden, Groningen (the Netherlands), Mainz (Germany), York and Cambridge (UK), analysed shells recovered at Ksâr ‘Akil, a site in Lebanon. Ksâr ‘Akil is one of the few sites in the Near East where modern human fossils are associated with Upper Palaeolithic (UP) tools. The authors radiocarbon-dated the shell carbonates of the mollusc species Phorcus turbinatus that was eaten by prehistoric humans. Using several independent lines of evidence in a novel approach, they could show that modern humans carrying a UP toolkit occupied the Levant at least 45,900 years ago. This confirms UP modern human presence in the Levant prior to their arrival in Europe and suggests that the Levant served as a corridor for the colonization of Europe by modern humans.
Genetic study shows that dominant males never sire the offspring of their daughters
Some mountain gorilla females linger into adulthood in the group into which they were born. In the process they also remain in the company of their father, who is often their group’s dominant male. To curb inbreeding, though, they appear to tactically avoid mating with their fathers. This strategy works so well that the chances of alpha gorilla males siring the offspring of their own daughters are effectively zero, according to Linda Vigilant of the Max Planck Institute for Anthropology in Germany. The findings are published in Springer’s journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.
Members of our species Homo sapiens belonging to the Protoaurignacian culture may have been the ultimate cause for the demise of Neandertals, according to new research
Researchers from the University of Bologna, Italy, and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, analysed two deciduous teeth from the prehistoric sites of Grotta di Fumane and Riparo Bombrini in Northern Italy. The state-of-the-art methods adopted in this study attribute the teeth to anatomically modern humans. New AMS radiocarbon dates on bones and charcoal from the site of Riparo Bombrini, along with previously published dates for the Grotta di Fumane sequence, show that these teeth represent the oldest modern human remains in an Aurignacian-related archeological context, overlapping in time with the last Neandertals. The results have strong implications for our understanding of the interaction between modern humans and Neandertals, as well as for the debate on the extinction of the latter.
A multi-level conservation project, which aims to protect the largest remaining population of wild chimpanzees on the Foutah Djallon-Bafing River (FDBR) region in Guinea, West Africa has won this year’s St Andrews Prize for the Environment. At a ceremony at the University of St Andrews today, Christophe Boesch from the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation (WCF), and director at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, was presented with the winning prize of $100,000 USD.
Volunteers will screen video footage filmed by camera traps and identify wild African animal
With Chimp&See, scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI-EVA), the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) and the Pan African Programme: The Cultured Chimpanzee are embarking on a new citizen science project hosted by the online platform Zooniverse. Anyone wishing to help biologists evaluate video sequences taken from camera traps in Africa can find general information and watch short clips at http://www.chimpandsee.org; with a little luck, they will spot chimpanzees and other wild animals. In celebration of Earth Day on April 22nd, this special citizen science project will be launched online.
Analyses of old dental calculus show that humans consumed plant foods and mushrooms as early as the Upper Palaeolithic
The human diet during the Magdalenian phase of Europe’s Upper Palaeolithic between 18,000 and 12,000 years ago is poorly known. This is particularly a problem regarding food resources that leave little trace such as plant foods. An international research team, led by Robert Power of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, has now explored diet in the period through dental calculus analysis on Magdalenian individuals found at El Mirón Cave in Cantabria, Spain. The researchers found that already Upper Palaeolithic individuals used a variety of plant foods and mushrooms, in addition to other food sources.
During mate competition Bonobo males suffer from psychological stress
Competition for females is energetically costly for males in many animal species. This reflects in an increase of male stress levels in the presence of fertile females, which can be quantified by measuring cortisol level in the urine. In a new study on bonobos, one of our closest living relatives, researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, find a slightly different pattern: Increased stress levels in the presence of attractive females do not have physiological causes.
Bone collagen sequences prove that South American native ungulates are closely related to horses, rhinos and tapirs but not to elephants
The South American native ungulates Toxodon and Macrauchenia were first found by Darwin 180 years ago in Uruguay and Argentina, yet their place in the phylogenetic tree of the mammals has long been an issue of debate. An international team of scientists from the University of York and the Natural History Museum in London, UK, the American Museum of Natural History in New York, USA, and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, has now provided the key to solving the evolutionary puzzle surrounding what Charles Darwin called the ‘strangest animals ever discovered’. Their remarkable technical feat in obtaining a molecular phylogeny based on Pleistocene protein sequences is a first, which could herald a new chapter in palaeontology.
Researchers develop a novel passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) method for the automated detection of chimpanzees and two monkey species
Traditionally, censusing of wild primates has been conducted using transect methodology where teams of human surveyors walk kilometers of line transects to collect data on primate sightings and vocalizations. Motivated by the increasing availability of cost-efficient audio-visual technologies, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, and the Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology (IDMT) in Ilmenau, investigated to what extent autonomous recording devices, combined with an automated data processing approach, could be used to monitor wild forest primates. To achieve this goal they used an interdisciplinary team of sound engineers, biomonitoring specialists, statisticians, and primate vocalization experts.
Digital makeover of iconic human fossil sheds light on human origins
State-of-the-art computer reconstruction of the original fossil of Homo habilis, or Handy man, shows this poorly understood human ancestor in a new and unexpected light. Published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature on March 5th, the findings uncover what makes Homo habilis truly distinctive, and indicate that its evolutionary roots go further back in time than previously thought. The research was done by a team led by Fred Spoor from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig and University College London (UCL), in collaboration with the National Museums of Tanzania. The work was supported by the Max Planck Society.
Pre-Homo human ancestral species, such as Australopithecus africanus, used human-like hand postures much earlier than was previously thought
Some of the morphological characteristics of the human hand are different from that of other primates enabling us to grab objects with precision and use them exerting a force. Yet, how did our early human ancestors use their hands? This question was long debated among scientists. Anthropologists from the University of Kent, working with researchers from University College London, the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany and the Vienna University of Technology in Austria, have produced the first research findings to support archaeological evidence for stone tool use among fossil australopiths three to two million years ago and found that Australopithecus africanus used their hands the way modern humans do.
Languages with a wide range of tone pitches have primarily developed in regions with high levels of humidity
The weather impacts not only upon our mood but also our voice. An international research team including scientists from the Max Planck Institutes for Psycholinguistics, Evolutionary Anthropology and Mathematics in the Sciences has analysed the influence of humidity on the evolution of languages. Their study has revealed that languages with a wide range of tone pitches are more prevalent in regions with high humidity levels. In contrast, languages with simpler tone pitches are mainly found in drier regions. This is explained by the fact that the vocal folds require a humid environment to produce the right tone.
Chimpanzees modify their food calls with respect to tree size for a high valued fruit species.
The vocalization capabilities of our closest living relatives, the great apes, often pale in comparison to their flexible gestural repertoire. However, the vast majority of literature on great ape communication, gestural and vocal, comes from studies conducted in captivity where the surrounding environment is vastly different from the socio-ecological context in which wild apes naturally communicate. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have now investigated a specific call type, the chimpanzee food call, which has already been shown to be produced solely during a foraging context, and a study in captivity has also provided evidence for the call being functionally referential to conspecifics.
Wild chimpanzees select nut-cracking tools taking account of up to five different factors
Are chimpanzees sensitive to the effect of an object’s properties on nut-cracking efficiency and plan their tool selection accordingly? An international team of researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, has now investigated the selection of hammers used for cracking Coula edulis nuts by wild chimpanzees in the Taï National Park, Côte d'Ivoire, taking into account the availability of potential tools at the site and time at which each tool selection episode occurred. The researchers found that wild chimpanzees select the optimal tool for the task at hand by considering several variables and conditions at once, including the weight, the material and the hardness of the hammer, the location of the anvil and whether they needed to transport it over a distance.
Information on socio-economic development processes and their impact on the biodiversity in tropical Africa need to be taken into consideration when it comes to designing effective conservation strategies. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have now investigated the links between human well-being and biodiversity protection in Liberia, West Africa.
Very young children imitate their peers to fit in, while great apes tend to stick to their own preferences
Children and chimpanzees often follow the group when they want to learn something new. But do they actually forego their own preferences in order to fit in with their peers? In direct comparisons between apes and children, a research team from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig and Jena University has found that the readiness to abandon preferences and conform to others is particularly pronounced in humans – even in two-year-old children. Interestingly, the number of peers presenting an alternative solution appeared to have no influence on whether the children conformed.
Wild chimpanzees plan their breakfast time, type and location
How do our close relatives, the chimpanzees, acquire sufficient food when times are lean? By studying wild chimpanzees in the Taï National Park in Côte d’Ivoire researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, provide a clear example of how great apes can acquire extra energy needed to maintain large, costly brains. They show that chimpanzees make their sleeping nests more en route to breakfast sites containing fruits that are more competed for by other daytime fruit-eaters than other fruits. Moreover, the researchers found that they leave their nest earlier (and often in the dark when leopards are more likely to attack) for these fruits in order to arrive before others, especially when the breakfast sites were far away.
Researchers discover fragments of Neandertal DNA in the genome of a 45,000 year-old modern human from Siberia
A research team led by Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, has sequenced the genome of a 45,000 year-old modern human male from western Siberia. The comparison of his genome to the genomes of people that lived later in Europe and Asia show that he lived close in time to when the ancestors of present-day people in Europe and eastern Asia went different ways. Like all present-day people outside Africa the Ust’-Ishim man carried segments of Neandertal DNA in his genome. But these segments were much longer than the ones found in present-day humans and indicate that the admixture with Neandertals took place between 50,000 and 60,000 years ago.
Changes in the social environment can nevertheless speed up the development of a language's lexicon
The frequency with which we use different words changes all the time, new words are invented or fall out of use. Yet little is known about the dynamics of lexical change across languages. Researchers of Kazan Federal University in Russia and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have now studied the lexical evolution of English in comparison to Russian, German, French, Spanish and Italian using the Google Books N-Gram Corpus. They found that major societal transformations such as wars cause faster changes in word frequency distributions, whereas lexical evolution is dampened during times of stability, such as the Victorian Era. Furthermore, the researchers found British and American English to drift apart during the first half of the 20th century, but then begin to re-converge, likely due to the mass media. Apart from these peculiarities, however, the researchers also find similar rates of change across languages at larger time scales, revealing universal trends governing lexical evolution.
Modern humans may have migrated into Austria around 43,500 years ago during a period with a cold steppe-like climate
A multinational team led by Philip Nigst (University of Cambridge and Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology) and Bence Viola (Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology) analysed stone tools recovered during a recent re-excavation of the find site of the Venus of Willendorf in Austria. The authors identified the stone tools as belonging to the Aurignacian culture, generally accepted as indicative of modern human presence. Chronostratigraphic information suggests the tools date to around 43,500 years ago, pre-dating other known Aurignacian artifacts. Based on the type of soil and its mollusk assemblage, climatic conditions during that time were likely cool, with a steppe-like environment and some conifer trees along river valleys. The date of the artifacts represents the oldest well-documented occurrence of behaviorally modern humans in Europe and suggests contemporaneity with Neanderthals in other parts of Europe, showing that behaviorally modern humans and Neanderthals shared this region longer than previously thought. Additionally, the results suggest that the early modern human settlers, who may have come from the warmer environments in southern Europe, were well-adapted to a variety of climates, according to the authors.
Lethal aggression in wild chimpanzees and bonobos is better explained by adaptive strategies than human impacts.
An international team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, the University of Minnesota, Harvard University and other contributors has now analyzed the reasons why our closest relatives, chimpanzees and bonobos, sometimes kill conspecifics in a fight. To this aim they compared information they had collected from 18 chimpanzee and four bonobo communities over five decades. The researchers found that bonobos rarely kill conspecifics while chimpanzees do so more frequently. The aggression is directed mainly from males to non-kin males and killings are often committed by a group of males that outnumbers its victims. Surprisingly, the human impact on the habitats of chimpanzees and bonobos did not result in an increase of these killings. The researchers thus conclude that killing conspecifics improves the attacker’s fitness through increased access to territory, food and mates.
Onset of puberty in female bonobos preceeds that of chimpanzees
Puberty is the threshold between childhood and adulthood. Behavior and appearance change considerably during this period – not only in humans but also in our closest relatives, the great apes. In a current study researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have investigated at which age bonobos and chimpanzees, the closest living relatives of humans, enter puberty. In order to determine the onset of puberty the researchers measured the concentration of the hormone testosterone which rapidly increases when male and female primates reach sexual maturity. They found that in males of both species urinary testosterone levels increase at an age of about eight years. Female chimpanzees showed a similar increase at a slightly older age. Female bonobos, however, were found to enter puberty already with five years of age. This is surprising since bonobos are known to be late bloomers whose developmental processes tend to be delayed or take longer in comparison to chimpanzees.
Positive emotional experiences may trigger spontaneous prospective memory retrievals in foraging chimpanzees
An international team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and the Félix Houphouët Boigny University in Abidjan, Ivory Coast were the first to study which specific information from previous feeding visits wild chimpanzees take into account when they revisit the same fruit trees. To this end the researchers followed five female chimpanzees from Taï National Park, Côte d’Ivoire, for extended periods of time. They found that chimpanzees direct their travels from longer distances towards trees that carried the best fruit in the past. The study further suggests that these revisits are triggered by positive emotions experienced during previous visits.
Max Planck researchers found that dogs and puppies can locate hidden food by using human voice direction referentially
Dogs and puppies are gifted at interpreting human communicative hints, and previous studies showed that they use human visual cues like pointing or gazing in order to find hidden food. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have now studied for the first time whether dogs can locate hidden food by relying on auditory information alone. In an experimental setting, an experimenter went behind a barrier and presented adult dogs and puppies with two identical boxes, but only one of them contained food. From behind the barrier, hidden from the dog’s sight, the experimenter vocalized excitedly while looking towards the box containing food. Most adult dogs and socialized puppies successfully followed the direction of the experimenter’s voice to the food source; the puppies even beat the adult dogs in this task. The researchers conclude that dogs do not rely on visual cues only, but on a combination of human communicative hints. These social skills may have become part of the dog’s genetic make-up during domestication.
Prize winner Kathryn E. Fitzsimmons leads the working group for Luminescence Dating within the Department of Human Evolution at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
Dr. Kathryn E. Fitzsimmons is the winner of the 2013 Albert Maucher Prize in Geoscience of the DFG (German Research Foundation). She has been working in the Department of Human Evolution at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig since 2010. Her research interests concern aspects of environmental change and human-environment interactions. The prize, worth 10,000 euros, was donated by Munich geologist Albert Maucher, who himself received DFG funding at the beginning of his scientific research career. According to Maucher's wishes, the prize expressly recognizes unconventional research approaches and methods. Dr. Fitzsimmons will be awarded the Prize on 23 September 2014.
Max Planck researchers reveal relationships between rare languages in the Colombian Amazon
The only linguistic data available for Carabayo, a language spoken by an indigenous group that lives in voluntary isolation, is a set of about 50 words. This list was compiled in 1969 during a brief encounter with one Carabayo family. Frank Seifart of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and Juan Alvaro Echeverri of the Universidad Nacional de Colombia in Leticia, Colombia, have now analysed this historical data set and compared it with various languages (once) spoken in the region. The analysis showed that Carabayo shares a number of similarities with the extinct language Yurí and with Tikuna, a language still spoken in the region nowadays. From the results of their study the researchers conclude that the Carabayo – directly or indirectly – descend from the Yurí people whose languages and customs were described by explorers in the 19th century, before they took up voluntary isolation.
An international team of researchers has for the first time deciphered the intestinal bacteria of present- day hunter-gatherers
The gut microbiota is responsible for many aspects of human health and nutrition, but most studies have focused on “western” populations. An international collaboration of researchers, including researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, has for the first time analysed the gut microbiota of a modern hunter-gatherer community, the Hadza of Tanzania. The results of this work show that Hadza harbour a unique microbial profile with features yet unseen in any other human group, supporting the notion that Hadza gut bacteria play an essential role in adaptation to a foraging subsistence pattern. The study further shows how gut microbiota may have helped our ancestors adapt and survive during the Paleolithic.
Liberia is home to the second largest chimpanzee population in West Africa
When Liberia enters the news it is usually in the context of civil war, economic crisis, poverty or a disease outbreak such as the recent emergence of Ebola in West Africa. Liberia’s status as a biodiversity hotspot and the fact that it is home to some of the last viable and threatened wildlife populations in West Africa has received little media attention in the past. This is partly because the many years of violent conflict in Liberia, from 1989 to 1997 and from 2002 to 2003, thwarted efforts of biologists to conduct biological surveys. An international research team, including scientists of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, has now counted chimpanzees and other large mammals living in Liberia. The census revealed that this country is home to 7000 chimpanzees and therefore to the second largest population of the Western subspecies of chimpanzees. As Liberia has released large areas for deforestation, the local decision-makers can now use the results of this study in order to protect the chimpanzees more effectively.
A team of interdisciplinary scientists arrived in Guinea April 2nd 2014 to investigate a possible epidemic of Ebola hemorrhagic fever (EHF) amongst wildlife in the region were human cases occurred. In a joint mission between the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation – Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire (WCF), the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the Max-Planck-Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI-EVA), the Institute of Tropical Medicine and International Health (ITMIH) of Charité – University Medicine Berlin, and the National Laboratory for Agricultural Development (LANADA, Côte d’Ivoire), the team will systematically monitor wildlife around the outbreak areas.
Contemporary Europeans have as many as three times more Neanderthal variants in genes involved in lipid catabolism than Asians and Africans
Although Neanderthals are extinct, fragments of their genomes persist in modern humans. These shared regions are unevenly distributed across the genome and some regions are particularly enriched with Neanderthal variants. An international team of researchers led by Philipp Khaitovich of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and the CAS-MPG Partner Institute for Computational Biology in Shanghai, China, show that DNA sequences shared between modern humans and Neanderthals are specifically enriched in genes involved in the metabolic breakdown of lipids. This sharing of genes is seen mainly in contemporary humans of European descent and may have given a selective advantage to the individuals with the Neanderthal variants.
An interactive world map of human genetic history reveals likely genetic impacts of historical events
When individuals from different groups interbreed, their offspring's DNA becomes a mixture of the DNA from each admixing group. Pieces of this DNA are then passed along through subsequent generations, carrying on all the way to the present day. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, Oxford University and University College London (UCL) have now produced a global map detailing the genetic histories of 95 different populations across the world, spanning the last four millennia.
Several thousand chimpanzees inhabit a remote forest area in the northern Democratic Republic of the Congo
With great ape populations in fast decline, it is crucial to obtain a global picture of their distribution and abundance, in order to channel and direct conservation activities to where they are most needed. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and the University of Amsterdam in The Netherlands conducted hundreds of kilometers of chimpanzee surveys at multiple sites in the Central Uele region of northern Democratic Republic of the Congo and discovered a large, continuous population of Eastern chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii). The population in the remote Bili-Gangu forest was surveyed in 2005 with line transects and again in 2012, and appears to have remained stable. The total area surveyed, which encompasses about 50,000 square kilometers, is home to several thousands of chimpanzees and, according to the researchers, should be considered a priority site for conservation of the eastern subspecies.
Chimpanzees keep track of other group members’ bonding partners and use this knowledge in conflict situations
To know who your opponents’ family and friends are can be of advantage in a conflict situation. Humans make predictions about other people’s social relationships frequently. Whether other animals also have the cognitive skills to track their group mates’ social relationships across time and beyond close kin has so far not been known. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig have now conducted playback experiments with wild-living chimpanzees from Budongo Forest in Uganda. Two hours after a subject attacked or had been attacked by an opponent, the researchers broadcast the recording of a third individual’s aggressive barks from a speaker near the subject. If the call provider was their opponent’s close buddy or kin, subjects looked longer and moved away more often from barks than if the call provider was not a bond partner. This shows that chimpanzees know who their group mates’ kin or non-kin bond partners are and that their behavior may have an impact on them.
Chimpanzees who share their food with others have higher levels of the hormone oxytocin in their urine
The ability to form long-term cooperative relationships between unrelated individuals is one of the main reasons for human’s extraordinary biological success, yet little is known about its evolution and mechanisms. The hormone oxytocin, however, plays a role in it. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, measured the urinary oxytocin levels in wild chimpanzees after food sharing and found them to be elevated in both donor and receiver compared to social feeding events without sharing. Furthermore, oxytocin levels were higher after food sharing than after grooming, another cooperative behaviour, suggesting that food sharing might play a more important role in promoting social bonding. By using the same neurobiological mechanisms, which evolved within the context of building and strengthening the mother-offspring bond during lactation, food sharing might even act as a trigger for cooperative relationships in related and unrelated adult chimpanzees.
High-quality Neandertal genome provides novel insights into human origins
An international research team led by Kay Prüfer and Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, has determined a high-quality genome sequence of a Neandertal woman. The genome allows detailed insights into the relationships and population history of the Neandertals and other extinct hominin groups. The results reveal that gene flow among such groups was common but generally of low magnitude. It also provides a definitive list of the DNA sequence changes that distinguish modern humans from our nearest extinct relatives.
Contrary to humans and chimpanzees bonobos retain elevated thyroid hormones well into adulthood
Despite the fact that chimpanzees and bonobos share similar starting conditions at birth they develop different behavioural patterns later in life. These differences might be caused by different hormone levels. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and the Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp in Belgium have analyzed thyroid hormones from urine samples of zoo-living chimpanzees and bonobos. They discovered that bonobos retain elevated thyroid hormone concentrations well into adulthood, whereas in humans and chimpanzees thyroid hormone concentrations decline after puberty. The late decline of thyroid hormones in bonobos might have consequences on their behaviour and might also indicate a delayed development of their mental capacities.
Max Planck researchers sequence the mitochondrial genome of a 400,000-year-old hominin from Spain
Using novel techniques to extract and study ancient DNA researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have determined an almost complete mitochondrial genome sequence of a 400,000-year-old representative of the genus Homo from Sima de los Huesos, a unique cave site in Northern Spain, and found that it is related to the mitochondrial genome of Denisovans, extinct relatives of Neandertals in Asia. DNA this old has until recently been retrieved only from the permafrost.
New world atlas of colonial-era languages reveals massive traces of African and Pacific source languages
A new large-scale database and atlas of key structural properties of mixed languages from the Americas, Africa and Asia-Pacific has been published by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, in a joint project with colleagues at the University of Gießen and the University of Zurich, and involving a consortium of over 80 other researchers from around the world. These languages mostly arose as a result of colonial contacts between European traders and colonizers and indigenous and slave populations. The Atlas of Pidgin and Creole Language Structures, published by Oxford University Press and as a free online publication, contains in-depth comparable information on syntactic and phonological patterns of 76 languages. While most of these languages have words derived from the languages of the European (and sometimes Arab) colonizers, their grammatical patterns can often be traced back to the African and Pacific languages originally spoken by the indigenous populations, as the new atlas shows clearly.
Searching for bountiful fruit crops in the rain forest, chimpanzees remember past feeding experiences
Where do you go when the fruits in your favourite food tree are gone and you don’t know which other tree has produced new fruit yet? An international team of researchers, led by Karline Janmaat from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, studied whether chimpanzees aim their travel to particular rainforest trees to check for fruit and how they increase their chances of discovering bountiful fruit crops. The scientists found that chimpanzees use long-term memory of the size and location of fruit trees and remember feeding experiences from previous seasons using a memory window which can be two months to three years ago.
New finds demonstrate: Neandertals were the first in Europe to make standardized and specialized bone tools – which are still in use today
Two research teams from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and the University of Leiden in the Netherlands have jointly reported the discovery of Neandertal bone tools coming from their excavations at two neighboring Paleolithic sites in southwest France. The tools are unlike any others previously found in Neandertal sites, but they are similar to a tool type well known from later modern human sites and still in use today by high-end leather workers. This tool, called a lissoir or smoother, is shaped from deer ribs and has a polished tip that, when pushed against a hide, creates softer, burnished and more water resistant leather. The bone tool is still used today by leather workers some 50 thousand years after the Neandertals and the first anatomically modern humans in Europe.
During an individual’s lifetime the biomechanical requirements on his or her teeth change
Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, have conducted stress analyses on gorilla teeth of differing wear stages. Their findings show that different features of the occlusal surface antagonize tensile stresses in the tooth to tooth contact during the chewing process. They further show that tooth wear, with its loss of dental tissue and reduction of occlusal relief decreases tensile stresses in the tooth. The price, however, is that food processing becomes less effective. Thus, when the condition of the occlusal surface changes during an individual’s lifetime due to tooth wear, the biomechanical requirements on the existing dental material change as well – an evolutionary compromise for longer tooth preservation.
In bonobos, attractive females are more likely to win conflicts against males
Female social dominance over males is rare among mammal species. Bonobos, one of our closest living relatives, are known for females holding relatively high social statuses when compared to males; though this is puzzling as the males are often bigger and stronger than the females. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have now analyzed the dominance relations between male and female wild bonobos and took particular interest in the high social status ranking of some females. The result: It is not female alliances that help females win conflicts. The context of the conflict does not seem to be relevant for its outcome either. Instead, the attractiveness of females plays an important role. If females display sexually attractive attributes, including sexual swellings, they win conflicts with males more easily, with the males behaving in a less aggressive way.
Archaeologists find traces of flowering plants in grave linings that have been dated to 13,700-11,700 BP
Plants in particular flowers are a familiar feature of human ritual in many cultures. Unfortunately understanding the early use of flowers is immensely challenging due to the paucity of remains. Robert Power of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, has worked as part of a multidisciplinary team in a study published in PNAS led by Dani Nadel at the University of Haifa to understand their use at Raqefet Cave on Mount Carmel in Israel where unusual preservation conditions have allowed the survival of traces of their use.
Researchers show that already in infancy imitation promotes a general pro-social orientation toward others and, in early childhood, is a powerful means of social influence in development
Being mimicked increases pro-social behaviour in adults, yet little is known about its social effect on children. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have now investigated whether the fact of being imitated had an influence on infants’ pro-social behaviour and on young children’s trust in another person. In one study, eighteen-month-old infants were either mimicked or not by an experimenter. Later, when this experimenter or a different adult needed help, infants who had been imitated were more likely to help spontaneously. In a second study, five- to six-year-olds interacted with one experimenter who mimicked their choices and another experimenter who made independent choices. The researchers found that the children were more likely to trust the preferences and factual claims of the experimenter who had mimicked them before. These results demonstrate that already in infancy mimicry promotes a general pro-social orientation toward others and that in young children imitation is a powerful means of social influence in development.
Leipzig researchers have published new data on volcanic ash, known as the “Campanian Ignimbrite”, which covered wide parts of Europe
About 40,000 years ago Europe suffered a major volcanic eruption in the Phlegrean Fields west of Naples. Deposits known as "Campanian Ignimbrite" are still present in the region and bear witness to the event. The ash that was flung into the upper atmosphere from the CI eruption was distributed far across Eastern Europe. Computer models had predicted the ash layers in Eastern Europe to be between five and ten centimetres thick. New data from Urluia, Romania, however, demonstrates that CI ash deposits in the Lower Danube steppe are up to ten times thicker than previously thought. The eruption of the super volcano, which must have been substantially more explosive than previously modelled, impacted human evolution at a critical time - corresponding with the arrival into Europe of modern humans, and the demise of Neanderthals.
Researchers found that adult wild chimpanzees have developed a certain immunity against malaria parasites
Wild great apes are widely infected with malaria parasites. Yet, nothing is known about the biology of these infections in the wild. Using faecal samples collected from wild chimpanzees, an international team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig and the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin has now investigated the effect of the animals’ age on malaria parasite detection rates. The data show a strong association between age and malaria parasite positivity, with significantly lower detection rates in adult chimpanzees. This suggests that, as in humans, individuals reaching adulthood have mounted an effective protective immunity against malaria parasites.
"Chimpanzee" is not a documentary film but still provides fascinating facts about our closest relatives
Next week the Disneynature film "Chimpanzee" opens in German cinemas. An article that appeared in this week's issue of DER SPIEGEL is making waves and, for this reason, we would like to take this opportunity to make the following clear: while this film is not a documentary, its contents are not made up. The story is based on the results of more than 30 years of pain-staking research on these and other extremely exciting aspects of the lives of our closest living relatives. For practical reasons the filmmakers were not always able to capture the story in exact sequence but this is common with wildlife films.
Computer simulation shows that the reduction of natural dental wear might be the main cause for widely spread non-carius cervical lesions (the loss of enamel and dentine at the base of the crown) in our teeth.
Scientists of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig and the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt together with dental technicians have digitally analysed modern human teeth using an engineering approach, finite element method, to evaluate the biomechanical behaviour of teeth under realistic loading. They report results, showing that very widespread loss of dental material (enamel and dentine) at the base of the crown might be linked to the reduction of tooth wear in our industrialised societies.
Chimpanzees use Botanical Skills to Discover Fruit
Fruit-eating animals are known to use their spatial memory to relocate fruit, yet, it is unclear how they manage to find fruit in the first place. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have now investigated which strategies chimpanzees in the Taï National Park in Côte d’Ivoire, West Africa, use in order to find fruit in the rain forest. The result: Chimpanzees know that trees of certain species produce fruit simultaneously and use this botanical knowledge during their daily search for fruit.
Max Planck researchers find stable isotope evidence of meat eating and hunting specialization in adult male chimpanzees
Observations of hunting and meat eating in our closest living relatives, chimpanzees, suggest that regular inclusion of meat in the diet is not a characteristic unique to Homo. Wild chimpanzees are known to consume vertebrate meat, but its actual dietary contribution is often unknown. Constraints on continual direct observation throughout the entire hunting season mean that behavioural observations are limited in their ability to accurately quantify meat consumption. An interdisciplinary team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, has now compared stable isotope data of wild chimpanzee hair keratin and bone collagen with behavioural observations and found that, in chimpanzees, hunting and meat-eating is male-dominated. These new results support previous behavioural observations of chimpanzees in Taï National Park, Côte d’Ivoire.
Remember your first summer camp, meeting a new group of children for the first time? Who would you want to be friends with? Who would you share your breakfast with? One answer is: the ones who speak the same way you do. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig have found that accent is an early developing guide to children’s social preferences. The study by Emma Cohen and Daniel Haun was published in Evolution and Human Behavior on March 14.
The Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, in Leipzig, Germany, has completed the genome sequence of a Neandertal and makes the entire sequence available to the scientific community today.
In 2010, Svante Pääbo and his colleagues presented the first draft version of the Neandertal genome from data collected from three bones found in a cave in Croatia. They have now used a toe bone excavated in 2010 in Denisova Cave in southern Siberia to generate a high-quality genome from a single Neandertal individual.
Geneticist Svante Pääbo from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthroplogy is to receive the US$500,000 Gruber Genetics Prize for groundbreaking research in evolutionary genetics
Svante Pääbo is the recipient of the 2013 Genetics Prize of The Gruber Foundation. Pääbo is being honoured with this prestigious international award for his pioneering research in the field of evolutionary genetics. He is considered the founder of molecular paleontology, the application of genetics to the study of prehistoric life. The award will be presented to Pääbo on April 16 at the International Congress of Genetics conference in Singapore, where he will also deliver a lecture entitled "Archaic Genomics."
Researchers found that in chimpanzees the hormone oxytocin is likely to play a key role in maintaining social relations with both kin and non-kin cooperation partners
Animals which maintain cooperative relationships show gains in longevity and offspring survival. However, little is known about the cognitive or hormonal mechanisms involved in cooperation. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have now found that cooperative relationships are facilitated by an endocrinological mechanism involving the hormone oxytocin, even when these are between non-kin. They collected urine samples of 33 chimpanzees from Budongo Forest, Uganda, and measured their urinary oxytocin levels after single episodes of a specific cooperative behaviour, mutual grooming. The result: Oxytocin levels were higher after grooming with cooperation partners compared with non-cooperation partners or after no grooming, regardless of genetic relatedness or sexual interest. This suggests that in chimpanzees oxytocin, which acts directly on neural reward and social memory systems, plays a key role maintaining social relations beyond genetic ties and in keeping track of social interactions with multiple individuals over time.
Ancient DNA has revealed that humans living some 40,000 years ago in the area near Beijing were likely related to many present-day Asians and Native Americans
An international team of researchers including Svante Pääbo and Qiaomei Fu of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, sequenced nuclear and mitochondrial DNA that had been extracted from the leg of an early modern human from Tianyuan Cave near Beijing, China. Analyses of this individual's DNA showed that the Tianyuan human shared a common origin with the ancestors of many present-day Asians and Native Americans. In addition, the researchers found that the proportion of Neanderthal and Denisovan-DNA in this early modern human is not higher than in people living in this region nowadays.
Ancient Khoisan lineages survive in contemporary Bantu groups
An international team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and the CNRS in Lyon, France, have investigated the maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA of 500 individuals from southern Africa speaking different Khoisan and Bantu languages. Their results demonstrate that Khoisan foragers were genetically more diverse than previously known. Divergent mtDNA lineages from indigenous Khoisan groups were incorporated into the genepool of the immigrating Bantu-speaking agriculturalists through admixture, and have thus survived until the present day, although the Khoisan-speaking source populations themselves have become extinct.
Long before Europeans settled in Australia humans had migrated from the Indian subcontinent to Australia and mixed with Australian aborigines
Australia is thought to have remained largely isolated between its initial colonization around 40,000 years ago and the arrival of Europeans in the late 1800s. A study led by researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, now finds evidence of substantial gene flow between Indian populations and Australia about 4,000 years ago. In addition, the researchers found a common origin for Australian, New Guinean and the Philippine Mamanwa populations. These populations followed an early southern migration route out of Africa, while other populations settled in the region only at a later date.
Study questions informative value of dental microwear for dietary habits of extinct species
Dental microwear, the pattern of tiny marks on worn tooth surfaces, is an important basis for understanding the diets of fossil mammals, including those of our own lineage. Now nanoscale research by an international multidisciplinary group that included members of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig has unraveled some of its causes. It turns out that quartz dust is the major culprit in wearing away tooth enamel. Silica phytoliths, particles produced by plants, just rub enamel, and thus have a minor effect on its surface. The results suggest that scientists will have to revise what microwear can tell us about diets, and suggest that environmental factors like droughts and dust storms may have had a large effect on the longevity of teeth. In particular, East African hominins may have suffered during dust storms, particularly from particles carried in by seasonal winds from the Arabian peninsula.
New high precision radiocarbon dates of bone collagen show that a cultural exchange may have taken place between modern humans and Neanderthals more than 40,000 years ago.
It has long been debated whether the Châtelperronian (CP), a transitional industry from central and southwestern France and northern Spain, was manufactured by Neanderthals or modern humans. An international team of researchers led by Jean-Jacques Hublin of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, has now analyzed bone samples from two sites in France, Grotte du Renne and Saint Césaire, and radiocarbon-dated them using an accelerator mass spectrometer. The new high precision dates show that the CP bone tools and body ornaments were produced by Neanderthals. However since these late Neanderthals only manufactured CP body ornaments after modern humans arrived in neighboring regions, the study suggests that cultural diffusion might have taken place between modern humans and Neanderthals.
Genetics reveals the shared history of southern and eastern African hunter-gatherers
Populations in southern Africa that speak non-Bantu languages characterized by click consonants fall into two major groups that share a genetic link with eastern African hunter-gatherers. Scientists have long debated whether populations in eastern and southern Africa that speak non-Bantu languages with click consonants descend from a common ancestor. The most comprehensive survey of genetic diversity in these populations to date provides strong evidence for a genetic link between eastern and southern Africa. The research also documents genetic differentiation between forager populations living in the northwestern and southeastern Kalahari that began up to 30,000 years ago. Furthermore, there is a genetic signature of population mixture between these indigenous populations and migrants from the north beginning 1,200 years ago.
The first continent-wide perspective of the distribution of African ape habitat shows dramatic declines in recent years.
Over the last 30 years, great ape numbers have plummeted across Africa, due to increasing rates of commercial hunting, habitat destruction, and disease. A continent-wide, data-based overview of their habitats is now possible, as the results of surveys from over 60 sites have been combined through the IUCN/SSC A.P.E.S. (Ape Populations, Environments and Surveys) database (http://apes.eva.mpg.de). This information is crucial to inform global policy and donor decisions, and to predict and mitigate current and emerging threats. These threats include habitat destruction, large-scale infrastructure developments, resource exploitation projects, intensifying hunting pressure and impacts of climate change.
Max Planck researchers describe Denisovan genome, illuminating the relationships between Denisovans and present-day humans
The analyses of an international team of researchers led by Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, show that the genetic variation of Denisovans was extremely low, suggesting that although they were present in large parts of Asia, their population was never large for long periods of time. In addition, a comprehensive list documents the genetic changes that set apart modern humans from their archaic relatives. Some of these changes concern genes that are associated with brain function or nervous system development.
Researchers have revealed that chimpanzees are not only capable of learning from one another, but also use this social information to form and maintain local traditions. A research collaboration between the Gonzaga University (Spokane, Washington, USA) and the Max Planck Institutes (Nijmegen, Leipzig) shows that the way in which chimpanzees groom each other depends on the community to which they belong. Specifically, it is the unique handclasp grooming behaviour that reveals this local difference. The study was reported in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B on August 29.
New Kenyan Fossils Shed Light on the Evolution of the Genus Homo
Exciting new fossils discovered east of Lake Turkana confirm that there were two additional species of our genus – Homo – living alongside our direct human ancestral species, Homo erectus, almost two million years ago. The finds, announced in the prestigious scientific journal Nature on August 9th, include a face, a remarkably complete lower jaw, and part of a second lower jaw. They were uncovered between 2007 and 2009 by the Koobi Fora Research Project (KFRP), led by Meave and Louise Leakey. KFRP member Fred Spoor of the Department of Human Evolution at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig coordinated the scientific study of the fossils. Most of the analyses were performed in Leipzig, including virtual reconstruction of the new finds using sophisticated computer technology.
For the first time, researchers have found plant remains in the two-million-year-old dental plaque of ancient hominins’ teeth
The first direct evidence of what our earliest ancestors actually ate has been discovered due to a two-million-year-old mishap that befell two early members of the human family tree. Amanda Henry of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and co-workers determined the diet of these hominins by looking at patterns of dental wear and analysing tiny plant fragments on their teeth. The authors also consider carbon-isotope data derived from the skeletons, which can indicate the types of carbon source that were eaten. Notably, bark and woody tissues were found in the teeth of the two individuals; this has not been documented previously for hominins. The findings indicate that Australopithecus sediba had a diet that is somewhat unexpected compared with the diets of similarly aged early African hominins. The study was led by Professor Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Max Planck scientists have completed the genome of the bonobo - the final great ape to be sequenced
In a project led by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, an international team of scientists has completed the sequencing and analysis of the genome of the last great ape, the bonobo. Bonobos, which together with chimpanzees are the closest living relatives of humans, are known for their peaceful, playful and sexual behaviour that contrasts with the more aggressive behaviour of chimpanzees. The genome sequence provides insights into the evolutionary relationships between the great apes and may help us to understand the genetic basis of these traits.
Despite similar ecological conditions neighboring chimpanzee groups use different hammers to crack nuts
Culture has long been proposed to be a distinguishing feature of the human species. However, an increasing amount of evidence from the field has shown that in several animals, differences in behaviors between populations actually reflect the presence of culture in these species. These studies have mainly come from populations that live far apart from each other which make it difficult to exclude ecological or genetic differences as being the underlying reasons for the observed behavioral differences. Now for the first time, cultural differences between directly neighboring chimpanzee groups have been found in the wild and are reported by Lydia Luncz, Roger Mundry and Christophe Boesch of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.
Animals get stressed too: A new study on bonobos, one of our closest living relatives, reveals that life in the rainforest can be stressful
The results of the research show that adult bonobo males are more stressed when they are close to attractive females (those close to their ovulatory period). Because high ranking males are the ones that are more often in proximity to these females, they exhibit higher levels of stress than low ranking males. Behavioural observation by Martin Surbeck and colleagues from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, indicate that the males feed less if they are close to attractive females and are also at a higher risk of being victims of aggression from other group members.
The Disneynature production “Chimpanzee” provides us with a fascinating insight into the life of our next closest relatives, chimpanzees
Oscar, Freddy and Isha star in Disneynature’s CHIMPANZEE, which opened in theaters through North America on Friday, April 20th. This marks the first time ever that a feature film was shot entirely in the wild. CHIMPANZEE includes spectacular footage of the chimpanzees living in Taï National Park, Côte d’Ivoire, and in the Ngogo area of Kibale National Park, Uganda. The three main stars, Oscar, Freddy, and Isha, belong to the chimpanzee groups that Max Planck Director Christophe Boesch and his team have been studying for the last 33 years in Côte d’Ivoire.
In humans and chimpanzees knowledge is transmitted within a group by means of a majority principle
The transmission of knowledge to the next generation is a key feature of human evolution. In particular, humans tend to copy behaviour that is demonstrated by many other individuals. Chimpanzees and orangutans, two of our closest living relatives, also socially pass on traditional behaviour and culture from one generation to another. Whether and how this process resembles the human one is still largely unknown. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig and the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen have now discovered that chimpanzees are more likely to copy an action performed by a large number of individuals than an action that was performed more frequently. Two-year old children consider both the number of individuals and the frequency of the action demonstrated. For orangutans, however, none of the factors play a role.
The Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, in Leipzig, Germany, has completed the genome sequence of a Denisovan, a representative of an Asian group of extinct humans related to Neandertals.
In 2010, Svante Pääbo and his colleagues presented a draft version of the genome from a small fragment of a human finger bone discovered in Denisova Cave in southern Siberia. The DNA sequences showed that this individual came from a previously unknown group of extinct humans that have become known as Denisovans. Together with their sister group the Neandertals, Denisovans are the closest extinct relatives of currently living humans.
Dominant males invest in friendly relationships with females
Mate competition by males over females is common in many animal species. During mating season male testosterone levels rise, resulting in an increase in aggressive behavior and masculine features. Male bonobos, however, invest much more into friendly relationships with females. Elevated testosterone and aggression levels would collide with this increased tendency towards forming pair-relationships.
Foundation of the Max Planck Weizmann Center for Integrative Archaeology and Anthropology in Rehovot/Israel
A new element is being brought in to the already well-developed and multifaceted cooperation between the Max Planck Society and Israel's Weizmann Institute: on 11 January 2012, Max Planck President Peter Gruss and Weizmann President Daniel Zajfman will be signing the foundation treaty for the new Max Planck Weizmann Center for Integrative Archaeology and Anthropology in Rehovot.
Research suggests that great apes are capable of calculating the odds before taking risks.
Chimpanzees, orangutans, gorillas and bonobos make more sophisticated decisions than was previously thought. Great apes weigh their chances of success, based on what they know and the likelihood to succeed when guessing, according to a study of MPI researcher Daniel Haun, published on December 21 in the online journal PLoS ONE. The findings may provide insight into human decision-making as well.
Wild chimpanzees monitor the information available to other chimpanzees and inform their ignorant group members of danger
Many animals produce alarm calls to predators, and do this more often when kin or mates are present than other audience members. So far, however, there has been no evidence that they take the other group members’ knowledge state into account. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and the University of St. Andrews, Great Britain, set up a study with wild chimpanzees in Uganda and found that chimpanzees were more likely to alarm call to a snake in the presence of unaware than in the presence of aware group members, suggesting that they recognize knowledge and ignorance in others. Furthermore, to share new information with others by means of communication represents a crucial stage in the evolution of language. This study thus suggests that this stage was already present when our common ancestor split off from chimps 6 million years ago.
The evolution of the brain in fossil hominins reveals improved olfactory functions in Homo sapiens
Differences in the temporal lobes and olfactory bulbs suggest a combined use of brain functions related to cognition and olfaction. This is the result of a study conducted by researchers of the Spanish Natural Science Museum (CSIC) in Madrid and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. (Nature Communications, December 13, 2011).
A recent study shows that, over the last two decades, areas with the greatest decrease in African great ape populations are those with no active protection from poaching by forest guards.
Recent studies show that the populations of African great apes are rapidly decreasing. Many areas where apes occur are scarcely managed and weakly protected. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have carried out an international collaborative project together with field researchers and park managers. The project aim was to evaluate how the lack of conservation effort influences the extinction risk of African great apes. Records were collected over the last 20 years from 109 resource management areas. The researchers found that the long-term presence of local and international non-governmental organization support and of law enforcement guards are the most crucial factors affecting ape survival, and that they have a clear measurable impact. Conversely, national development, often cited as a driver of conservation success, and high human population density had a negative impact on the likelihood of ape survival.
An international consortium develops a computerized method for dating when prehistoric languages were spoken
A computerized method for determining when prehistoric languages were spoken has been developed by an international group of scholars known as the ASJP (Automated Similarity Judgment Program) consortium. ASJP is anchored in the Linguistics Department of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. The method is described in the most recent issue of Current Anthropology.
Children as young as four years of age conform their public opinion to the majority
Adults and adolescents often adjust their behaviour and opinions to peer groups, even when they themselves know better. Researchers from the Max Planck Institutes for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, Netherlands, studied this phenomenon in four-year-olds and found that preschool children are already subject to peer pressure. In the current study, the researchers found that children conformed their public judgment of a situation to the judgment of a majority of peers in spite better knowledge. (Child Development, October 25, 2011)
Humans like to work together in solving tasks - chimps don't
Recent studies have shown that chimpanzees possess many of the cognitive prerequisites necessary for humanlike collaboration. Cognitive abilities, however, might not be all that differs between chimpanzees and humans when it comes to cooperation. Researchers from the MPI for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig and the MPI for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen have now discovered that when all else is equal, human children prefer to work together in solving a problem, rather than solve it on their own. Chimpanzees, on the other hand, show no such preference according to a study of 3-year-old German kindergarteners and semi-free ranging chimpanzees, in which the children and chimps could choose between a collaborative and a non-collaboration problem-solving approach.
An international team of researchers studying DNA patterns from modern and archaic humans has uncovered new clues about the movement and intermixing of populations more than 40,000 years ago in Asia.
Using state-of-the-art genome analysis methods, scientists from Harvard Medical School and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have found that Denisovans – a recently identified group of archaic humans whose DNA was extracted last year from a finger bone excavated in Siberia – contributed DNA not just to present-day New Guineans, but also to aboriginal Australian and Philippine populations.
Humankind has always been fascinated by the question of where we come from. Historically this quest for our evolutionary origins started in 19th century Europe with the discovery of Neanderthal fossils in several countries. Despite this long research tradition there has never been a Europe-wide forum supporting and promoting the study of human evolution. In Leipzig, 23-24 September, 2011, this will now change with the formal inauguration of ESHE, the "European Society for the study of Human Evolution", and its first international scientific conference. ESHE will promote research into human biological and cultural evolution by stimulating communication and cooperation between scientists and by raising public awareness and understanding.
As part of the ESHE meeting there will be a free public lecture on Friday evening 23 September by Professor Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig on "Exploring the Genomes of Archaic Humans". The lecture will be held at 19:00 at the University of Leipzig, Universitätsstraße 3, Hörsaalgebäude, Lecture Hall 9.
The host of this year's meeting is the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
The versatile hand of Australopithecus sediba makes a better candidate for an early tool-making hominin than the hand of Homo habilis
Hand bones from a single individual with a clear taxonomic affiliation are scarce in the hominin fossil record, which has hampered understanding of the evolution of manipulative abilities in hominins. An international team of researchers including Tracy Kivell of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany has now published a study that describes the earliest, most complete fossil hominin hand post-dating the appearance of stone tools in the archaeological record, the hand of a 1.98-million-year-old Australopithecus sediba from Malapa, South Africa. The researchers found that Au. sediba used its hand for arboreal locomotion but was also capable of human-like precision grips, a prerequisite for tool-making. Furthermore, the Au. sediba hand makes a better candidate for an early tool-making hominin hand than the Homo habilis hand, and may well have been a predecessor from which the later Homo hand evolved.
American developmental psychologist, Dr. Michael Tomasello, has been named as this year’s recipient of the Wiley Prize in Psychology, awarded by the British Academy in partnership with Wiley-Blackwell, the scientific, technical, medical and scholarly publishing business of John Wiley & Sons, Inc. (NYSE: JWa, JWb).
Ugandan forest monkeys use fruiting synchrony to find food
An international team of researchers including Karline Janmaat of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, found that grey-cheeked mangabeys of Kibale National Park, Uganda, were able to use synchronous events of fruit emergence to predict the location of other producing trees. This is evidence for a flexible use of botanical knowledge in non-human primates. (Animal Cognition, Online First™, 21 July 2011)
Children as young as three years of age share toy rewards equally with a peer, but only when both collaborated in order to gain them. Katharina Hamann with an international team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, Harvard University and the Michigan State University found that sharing in children that young is a pure collaborative phenomenon: when kids received rewards not cooperatively but as a windfall, or worked individually next to one another, they kept the majority of toys for themselves. One of humans’ closest living relatives, chimpanzees, did not show this connection between sharing resources and collaborative efforts. (Nature, 20th July 2011)
Approx. 3 million years ago, females rather than males moved from the groups they were born in to new social groups.
So far ranging and residence patterns amongst early hominins have been indirectly inferred from morphology, stone tool sourcing, comparison to living primates and phylogenetic models. An international team of researchers including Sandi Copeland, Vaughan Grimes and Michael Richards of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig/Germany have now investigated landscape use in Australopithecus africanus (with fossils from sites dating between 2.8-2.0 million years ago) and Paranthropus robustus (with fossils from sites dating between 1.9-1.4 million years ago) from the Sterkfontein and Swartkrans cave sites in South Africa using strontium isotope analysis. This method helps identify the geological substrate on which an animal lived during tooth mineralization. (Nature, June 2nd, 2011)
Two species of gorillas live in central equatorial Africa. Divergence between the Western gorillas (Gorilla gorilla) and Eastern Gorillas (Gorilla beringei) began between 0.9 and 1.6 million years ago and now the two species live several hundred kilometres apart. An international team of researchers including Olaf Thalmann of the University of Turku in Finland and Linda Vigilant of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany found that the divergence of Western lowland gorillas and the Critically Endangered Cross River gorillas (Gorilla gorilla diehli) occurred more recently, about 17,800 years ago, during the Pleistocene era (BMC Evolutionary Biology, April 01, 2011).
The above publication by researchers led by Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig (Germany) now wins the Newcomb Cleveland Prize of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The Prize will be awarded in Washington D.C. on Saturday, February 19 at 6:00 p.m.
Composed of more than 4 billion nucleotides, a draft sequence of the Neandertal genome won the 2010 Newcomb Cleveland Prize of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The Association's oldest prize, the Newcomb Cleveland Prize annually recognizes the author or authors of an outstanding paper published in the Research Articles or Reports sections of the journal Science. A Science paper by Richard E. Green, David Reich, Svante Pääbo, and colleagues will receive the AAAS prize for 2010. It was originally published online on May 7, 2010.
The sequencing of the nuclear genome from an ancient finger bone from a Siberian Cave shows that the cave dwellers were neither Neandertals nor modern humans.
An international team of researchers led by Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig (Germany) has sequenced the nuclear genome from a finger bone of an extinct hominin that is at least 30,000 years old and was excavated by archaeologists from the Russian Academy of Sciences in Denisova Cave in southern Siberia, Russia, in 2008.
Census confirms increase in population of the critically endangered Virunga mountain gorillas
The analysis of a census conducted in March and April 2010 in the Virunga Massif by an international team of conservation groups and researchers, including Martha Robbins of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, confirms a 26.3 % increase in the population of mountain gorillas, Gorilla beringei beringei, in this area over the last seven years, with a 3.7 % annual growth rate. When the census was conducted, there were a total of 480 mountain gorillas, in 36 groups along with 14 solitary silverback males in the Virunga Massif. Of the 480 mountain gorillas, 352 (73%) are habituated (349 in groups and three solitary males) and 128 are unhabituated (117 in groups and 11 solitary males). The last census conducted in the Virunga Massif was in 2003, when the population was estimated at 380 individuals.
Synchrotron Reveals Human Children Outpaced Neanderthals by Slowing Down
While it may seem like kids grow up too fast, evolutionary anthropologists see things differently. Human childhood is considerably longer than chimpanzees, our closest-living ape relatives. A multinational team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Harvard University and the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility found a similar pattern when human kids are compared to Neanderthals. The specialists applied cutting-edge synchrotron X-ray imaging to resolve microscopic growth in 10 young Neanderthal and Homo sapiens fossils and found that despite some overlap, which is common in closely-related species, significant developmental differences exist. Modern humans are the slowest to the finish line, stretching out their maturation, which may have given them a unique evolutionary advantage (PNAS, November 15, 2010).
Researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany have documented species differences in the pattern of brain development after birth that are likely to contribute to cognitive differences between modern humans and Neanderthals
Whether cognitive differences exist between modern humans and Neanderthals is the subject of contentious disputes in anthropology and archaeology. Because the brain size range of modern humans and Neanderthals overlap, many researchers previously assumed that the cognitive capabilities of these two species were similar. Among humans, however, the internal organization of the brain is more important for cognitive abilities than its absolute size is. The brain's internal organization depends on the tempo and mode of brain development. Based on detailed measurements of internal shape changes of the braincase during individual growth, a team of scientists from the MPI has shown that these are differences in the patterns of brain development between humans and Neanderthals during a critical phase for cognitive development.
The advantages of a spatial memory – Mangabey monkeys are less efficient in finding food when they enter a new area
Studying the ability of primates to find food during times when they are exploring new areas can provide important insights into the adaptive value of long-term spatial memory. Researchers Karline Janmaat of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and Rebecca Chancellor of the University of California in Davis, USA, investigated the ranging of a group of mangabey monkeys that had been studied for 6 years in Kibale National Park, Uganda. During their studies the group started exploring a new area and being unfamiliar with the location of their favorite fig trees and places to forage and travel on the ground, the monkeys travelled longer distances per day in the new compared to the old area. The research strongly suggests that when primates move into an area in which they have no experience, their lack of long-term spatial memory of that area can decrease their efficiency in finding food (International Journal of Primatology, September 14, 2010).
High social status and maternal support play an important role in the mating success of male bonobos
Success makes sexy - this does not only apply to human beings, but also to various animals. Male bonobos appear to benefit from this phenomenon as well. A team of researchers led by Gottfried Hohmann of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology has discovered that the higher up a male bonobo is placed in the social hierarchy, the greater his mating success is with female bonobos. But even males who are not so highly placed are still in with a chance of impressing females. Researchers reported for the first time direct support from mothers to their sons in agonistic conflicts over access to estrous females. Martin Surbeck from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology discovered that the presence of mothers enhances the mating success of their sons and thereby causes mating to be more evenly distributed among the males. As bonobo males remain in their natal group and adult females have the leverage to intervene in male conflicts, maternal support extends into adulthood and potentially affects male reproductive success. (Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 01.09.2010)
New finds from Dikika, Ethiopia, push back the first stone tool use and meatconsumption by almost one million years and provide the first evidence that these behaviours can be attributed to Lucy's species - Australopithecus afarensis.
An international team of researchers, including Dr. Zeresenay Alemseged of the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco (USA) and Dr. Shannon McPherron of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig (Germany), has discovered evidence that human ancestors were using stone tools and consuming the meat and marrow of large mammals 1 million years earlier than previously documented. While working in the Afar region of Ethiopia, the Dikika Research Project (DRP) found bones bearing unambiguous evidence of stone tool use - cut marks made while carving meat off the bone and percussion marks created while breaking the bones open to extract marrow. The bones date to roughly 3.4 million years ago and provide the first evidence that Lucy's species, Australopithecus afarensis, used stone tools and consumed meat. The research is reported in the August 12th issue of the journal Nature.
Analysis of the Neandertal genome indicates that, contrary to previous beliefs, humans and Neandertals interbred
The first genome sequence from an extinct human relative is now available. Together with an international research team, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig present an initial draft of the genome sequence of the Neandertal, a human form which died out some 30,000 years ago. Initial analyses of four billion base pairs of Neandertal DNA indicate that Neandertals left their mark in the genomes of some modern humans.
(Science, May 7th 2010)
Max Planck scientists decode the mitochondrial genome of a previously unknown hominin from the mountains of Central Asia
An international team of scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig has sequenced ancient mitochondrial DNA from a finger bone found in southern Siberia. The bone is from a previously unknown form of human that lived in the Altai Mountains of Central Asia around 48,000 to 30,000 years ago. This mitochondrial genetic material, passed down through the descendants in the maternal line, is a sign of a new wave of migration out of Africa, one that is distinct from that of Homo erectus, the ancestors of Neanderthals and Homo sapiens (Nature, 24 March 2010).
The current status of the critically endangered mountain gorilla will soon be revealed through a census to determine its population size in the Virunga Volcanoes area that straddles the borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Uganda in Eastern and Central Africa.
Max Planck researchers report 18 cases of adoption of orphaned youngsters by group members in Taï forest chimpanzees. Half of the orphans were adopted by males.
In recent years, extended altruism towards unrelated group members has been proposed to be a unique characteristic of human societies. Support for this proposal came from experimental studies with captive chimpanzees. A team of researchers with the Department of Primatology at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (Leipzig/Germany) now reports 18 cases of adoption of orphaned youngsters by group members in Taï forest chimpanzees. Half of these orphans were adopted by males and remarkably only one of these proved to be the father. Such adoptions by adults can last for years and imply extensive care towards the orphans. These observations reveal that, under the appropriate socio-ecologic conditions, chimpanzees care for unrelated group members and that altruism is more extensive in wild populations than was suggested by captive studies (PLoS ONE, January 26, 2010).
Study on memory for dance moves discovers substantial cross-cultural diversity in human cognition
If your dancing instructor asked you to step left, you would swiftly comply. But how would you react of he asked you to step South? In a new study, a cross-disciplinary team of the Max Planck Institutes for Psycholinguistics (Nijmegen, Netherlands) and Evolutionary Anthropology (Leipzig) found that remembering movements of one's own body varies drastically across human cultures. (Current Biology, December 14, 2009)
In a new study in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, Harriet Over and Malinda Carpenter of Germany’s Max Planck Institute found that priming infants with subtle cues to affiliation increases their tendency to be helpful.
The isotopic analysis of a bone from one of the earliest modern humans in Asia, the 40,000 year old skeleton from Tianyuan Cave in the Zhoukoudian region of China (near Beijing), by an international team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, the Graduate University of Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing, the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and Washington University in Saint Louis has shown that this individual was a regular fish consumer (PNAS, 07.07.2009).
More than 20 000 people from all over the world have already signed the Manifesto for Apes and nature (mAn) which was launched on 4 April 2008 in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. To collect further signatures for this important conservation project for animals and nature, the initiators of the manifesto including amongst others researchers working with Professor Christophe Boesch from the Department of Primatology at the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology have now published an impressive video clip.
Fossil skull fragment unveiled by Minister Plasterk (The Netherlands) in National Museum of Antiquities at Leiden
For the first time ever, a fossil of a Neanderthal has been discovered in the Netherlands. The skull fragment, over 40,000 years old, with its characteristically thick Neanderthal eyebrow ridge was found off the coast of Zeeland, dredged up from the bottom of the North Sea. Huge quantities of fossil bones have been brought to the surface from this seabed since 1874, however, this is the first time a Neanderthal fossil has been found. The unique discovery was officially unveiled on the 15th of June by Ronald Plasterk (Dutch Minister of Education, Culture and Science) at the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden (National Museum of Antiquities) in Leiden, where it is on display to the public starting from June 16th.
The virtual reconstruction of a Neanderthal woman’s birth canal reveals insights into the evolution of human child birth.
Researchers from the University of California at Davis (USA) and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig (Germany) present a virtual reconstruction of a female Neanderthal pelvis from Tabun (Israel). Although the size of Tabun’s reconstructed birth canal shows that Neanderthal childbirth was about as difficult as in present-day humans, the shape indicates that Neanderthals retained a more primitive birth mechanism than modern humans. The virtual reconstruction of the pelvis from Tabun is going to be the first of its kind to be available for download on the internet for everyone interested in the evolution of humankind (PNAS, April 20th, 2009).
Wild female chimpanzees copulate more frequently with males who share meat with them over long periods of time, according to a study led by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, published in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE on April 8, 2009.
Over a period of 10 years an international team of researchers led by Karline Janmaat of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (Germany) and Peter M. Waser of Purdue University (USA) have been sharing and analysing ranging data on radio-tracked male and female mangabey monkeys in Kibale National Park, Uganda. They found that unlike predicted in earlier short-term studies, group home ranges drift very little. When monkeys do move into new areas, with the exception of young males, they do so in the company of others. Individuals follow those that are more familiar with the unknown area and may use each other’s reservoir of spatial knowledge. (International Journal of Primatology, March 16, 2009).
The Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and 454 Life Sciences Corporation have completed a draft sequence of the Neanderthal genome
The Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, in Leipzig, Germany, and the 454 Life Sciences Corporation, in Branford, Connecticut, will announce on 12 February during the 2009 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and at a simultaneous European press briefing that they have completed a first draft version of the Neanderthal genome. The project, made possible by financing from the Max Planck Society, is directed by Prof. Svante Pääbo, Director of the Institute’s Department of Evolutionary Anthropology. Pääbo and his colleagues have sequenced more than one billion DNA fragments extracted from three Croatian Neanderthal fossils, using novel methods developed for this project. The Neanderthal genome sequence will clarify the evolutionary relationship between humans and Neanderthals as well as help identify those genetic changes that enabled modern humans to leave Africa and rapidly spread around the world, starting around 100,000 years ago.
Animal species that sleep for longer do not suffer as much from parasite infestation and have a greater concentration of immune cells in their blood according to a study by researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, Durham University in the UK and
the US-American Boston University School of Medicine (BMC Evolutionary Biology, January 9, 2009).