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News/Press releases

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November 15, 2017: Chimpanzees fill another’s knowledge gap
©

Researchers show that vocalizing in chimpanzees is influenced by social cognitive processes

Adjusting communication to take into account information available to one’s audience is routine in humans but has been assumed absent in other animals. This assumption may be premature. Scientists Catherine Crockford and Roman Wittig from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig and Klaus Zuberbühler from the University of Neuchatel show that wild chimpanzees from the Budongo Forest, Uganda, inform others of danger based on whether receivers can or cannot know about the danger. This research shows that animal communication is more complex than previously thought possible.

Link to press release

Original publication

November 08, 2017: Chimpanzees and mangabeys interfere with group members' relationships
© A. Mielke

Bystanders monitor and intervene into grooming interactions of their group members if these threaten their own status or social relationships

Humans do not only form complex and long-lasting social relationships with friends, family, and romantic partners, but also keep track of threats to these relationships and protect them jealously against outsiders. We also observe changes in the relationships around us and try to prevent alliances that could harm us in the long run. Researcher of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, show that wild sooty mangabeys and chimpanzees, both living in complex social groups, monitor the interactions of others and take active steps to prevent friends from defecting any alliances from being formed.

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Original publication

November 02, 2017: Guinea approves creation of largest sanctuary for the West African chimpanzee
© MPI-EVA/WCF

The population of chimpanzees in West Africa has declined by over 80 percent in the last 20 years and in September 2016 they were classified as a critically endangered sub-species by the International Union of Nature Conservation (IUCN). As a result of this dramatic decline, the Government of Guinea has decided to implement its objective of protecting 15 percent of its land by 2020. On 28th September 2017, the Minister of Environment, Water and Forests signed a ministerial order for the creation of the national park of Moyen-Bafing which hosts about 4,000 chimpanzees in an area of 6,426 square kilometres, the largest protected area for West African chimpanzees in Guinea.

Press release (PDF)

October 19, 2017: Friendliness is more important in a new friend than which group she belongs to
© Anne Pisor

Individual qualities matter more than group qualities when choosing a new friend from an ethnic or religious group other than one’s own

Despite the global headlines emphasizing division and conflict, humans actually have a long history of forming friendships across group boundaries. But which criteria do they use for picking friends from a different group? In collaboration with three populations of horticulturalists in Bolivia, researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and the University of California Santa Barbara found that we use very similar criteria when choosing friends from among in-group and out-group strangers – individual cooperative qualities are most important in both cases. Only when it comes to dividing limited resources, qualities associated with a group can affect partner preference.

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Original publication

October 05, 2017: Researchers sequence a new Neandertal genome
© MPI f. Evolutionary Anthropology/ J. Krause

The genome of a European Neandertal allows more Neandertal DNA to be identified in present-day people

The high quality genome of a Neandertal from Croatia in southern Europe has been sequenced at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. This Neandertal is more closely related to the group of Neandertals that mixed with the ancestors of present-day non-Africans than the previously sequenced Neandertal from the Altai Mountains. This allowed the researchers to identify additional Neandertal DNA in the genomes of present-day people.

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Original publication

October 05, 2017: How easily we tan is influenced by Neandertal DNA
© Frank Vinken

Neandertal DNA influences variation in skin tone and hair colour in people living today

After humans and Neandertals met many thousands of years ago, the two species began interbreeding. While Neandertals aren't around anymore, about two percent of the DNA in non-African people living today comes from them. Recent studies have shown that some of those Neandertal genes have contributed to human immunity and modern diseases. Now researchers have found that our Neandertal inheritance has contributed to other characteristics, too, including skin tone, hair colour, sleep patterns, mood, and even a person's smoking status.

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Original publication

September 19, 2017: Capturing the body odours of mammals
© Brigitte Schlögl (née Weiß)

Newly adapted method allows researchers to collect body odour samples of mammals in a non-invasive manner

Mammals communicate with each other using olfactory cues. This way they recognize relatives or friends or find a genetically suitable mate. However, to collect smells, especially in the wild, is anything but easy to accomplish. A team of researchers from the University of Leipzig and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have now succeeded in adapting a method that has previously been used in plant ecology for collecting body odour samples of captive meerkats. In the future this method can be used to collect body odour samples from mammals living in the wild.

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Original publication

September 07, 2017: Great apes know when they don't know
© MPI for Evolutionary Anthropology

Chimpanzees and orangutans look for information to fill gaps in their knowledge

It's a familiar problem: you leave the house and while closing the door, the question whether the stove was turned on or off pops up in your head. Although annoying, this problem could easily be solved by turning around and taking a second look. This simple example illustrates an important form of thinking: metacognition or the ability to monitor ones' own mental states. Before turning around, you assess whether you remember the state of the stove. Once you realize that you don't remember, you seek additional information. Importantly, in humans, this monitoring process is very flexible and can be applied to all sorts of thoughts, not just the ones about your stove. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and the University of St. Andrews asked what great apes would do when they are confronted with such a situation.

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Original publication

August 23, 2017: Social disappointment in chimpanzees
© Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

Chimpanzees refuse a less-preferred food reward from a human distributor - but not a machine - if they could have been given a better one

Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, show that unlike humans, chimpanzees do not compare their payoffs to the payoffs of a social partner. They do, however, display a different, potentially evolutionarily more ancient, form of fairness: They react with disappointment if someone fails to take their personal preferences into consideration when distributing resources.

Press release (PDF)

Original publication

August 18, 2017: Eavesdropping on the conversation of stem cells
© MPI for Evolutionary Anthropology

Stem cells communicate at the molecular level – within the cell and with other cells. Stem cell scientists understand this "conversation" of cells more and more, and can begin to grasp the mysteries of the cells. This year, the German Stem Cell Network (GSCN) honors with its scientific awards three researchers - among them Barbara Treutlein and Gray Camp of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany - who are deeply involved with cellular communication – in the development of liver cells from pluripotent stem cells, the epigenetic information in the aging process, and the regeneration processes in the axolotl.

Press release (PDF, German Stem Cell Network)

Original publication

August 09, 2017: Fossil ape skull confirms African origin of apes and humans
© Fred Spoor

13-million-year-old “Alesi“, a fossil discovered in Kenya, sheds light on ape ancestry

The discovery in Kenya of a remarkably complete fossil ape skull reveals what the common ancestor of all living apes and humans may have looked like. The find belongs to an infant which lived about 13 million years ago. The research was done by an international team led by Isaiah Nengo of Stony Brook University-affiliated Turkana Basin Institute and De Anza College, USA. Senior author Fred Spoor of UCL in the UK and of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, was part of the research team.

Link to press release

Original publication

Discovery of a 13 million-year-old fossil ape skull (Video: Scott Bjelland, Turkana Basin Institute)

August 03, 2017: Award ceremony in Morocco
© Mohamed Maradji

Royal award for Max Planck Director

Jean-Jacques Hublin, Director of the Human Evolution Department at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, was honored by King Mohammed VI of Morocco on 30th July 2017 as one of three winners of the Wissam Al Kafaa Al Fikria Medal. This highest Moroccan award in the field of culture and science, honors Hublin's research in the area of paleoanthropology and his latest findings on the origin of our species Homo sapiens.

Press release (PDF)

August 02, 2017: Anthrax: a hidden threat to wildlife in the tropics
© MPI f. Evolutionary Anthropology/ L. Samuni

Researchers illuminate the epidemiology of a cryptic pathogen

Anthrax, a disease so far not associated with tropical rain forests, is common in the Ivory Coast’s Taï National Park and is posing a serious threat to wildlife there. The bacterium could soon even cause the extinction of local chimpanzee populations. This is revealed in a study by scientists from the Robert Koch Institute, the Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, the University of Glasgow, and the Ivorian National Animal Health Institute.

Link to press release

Original publication

July 14, 2017: FOXI3 gene is involved in dental cusp formation
© MPI f. Evolutionary Anthropology

The teeth of hairless dogs teach researchers about the development and evolution of mammalian teeth

Hairless dog breeds differ from other dogs not only by lacking a coat, but also in the number and nature of their teeth. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig and the Friedrich Schiller Universität Jena studied the skulls and teeth of pedigreed hairless dogs from the collection of the Phyletisches Museum of the University of Jena. Thus, they furthered our understanding of the involvement of the FOXI3 gene in the development of teeth – not only in hairless dogs, but potentially also in other mammals including humans.

Link to press release

Original publication

July 12, 2017: In fathering, peace-loving bonobos don't spread the love
© Zanna Clay/ LuiKotale Bonobo Research Project

Female bonobos often tend to choose the same attractive male for mating, researchers observed

Bonobos have a reputation for being the peaceful, free-loving hippies of the primate world. But, researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and Arizona State University in Tempe, USA, have discovered that despite friendly relations between the sexes, particular males have a surprisingly strong advantage over others when it comes to fathering offspring. For example, researchers found in one group that the most reproductively successful bonobo male fathered more than 60 percent of the next generation.

Press release (PDF)

Original publication

June 27, 2017: For a chimpanzee, one good turn deserves another
Chimpanzees provide food to conspecifics – but only if those previously proved to be cooperative themselves. © MPI f. Evolutionary Anthropology

Apes only provide food to conspecifics that have previously assisted them

For us humans, it goes without saying that we reward others as an indication of the gratitude we feel towards them. Scientists from the Max Planck Institutes for Evolutionary Anthropology and for Mathematics in the Sciences in Leipzig have now demonstrated that similar social behaviours exist among chimpanzees. In a behavioural experiment, one animal rewarded another with food if the latter had previously come to its assistance. This suggests that some main motivations for human cooperation might have been present in our common ancestor already while supporting findings from game theory.

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Original publication

June 20, 2017: Chimpanzees are looking for trouble
© Thurston Cleveland Hicks

Territorial aggressions and instigating trespasses pay off among chimpanzees

Many animals cooperate with group members because what they can achieve by working together exceeds what they can obtain on their own. Chimpanzees, for example, are patrolling their territory and trespass into enemy territory. If they meet rivals, they attack and sometimes kill them. Researchers of Arizona State University have now found that it pays off for the animals to take this risk: In the long run they protect their group and increase its size. Linda Vigilant of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthroplogy contributed to the study by analyzing the chimpanzees' family relationships.

Link to press release (Arizona State University)

Original publication

June 16, 2017: Bioengineered Livers Mimic Natural Development

Scientists discover that three-dimensional liver buds grown in a dish from stem cells mimic the molecular signatures observed during the natural development of human liver

An international team of researchers led by Barbara Treutlein of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and Takanori Takebe of Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, USA, and Yokohama City University, Japan, used novel genomic and stem cell technologies to understand how individual cells work together and use their genomes to develop into human liver tissue. This new research greatly advances efforts to bioengineer healthy and usable human liver tissue from human pluripotent stem cells. Still, researchers say the tissues need additional rounds of molecular fine tuning before they can be tested in clinical trials.

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Original publication

June 07, 2017: The first of our kind
© Philipp Gunz, MPI EVA Leipzig (License: CC-BY-SA 2.0)

Scientists discover the oldest Homo sapiens fossils at Jebel Irhoud, Morocco

New finds of fossils and stone tools from the archaeological site of Jebel Irhoud, Morocco, push back the origins of our species by one hundred thousand years and show that by about 300 thousand years ago important changes in our biology and behaviour had taken place across most of Africa.

Link to press release

Link to press kit

Original publication (Hublin et al.)

Original publication (Richter et al.)

June 07, 2017: Genetic study shakes up the elephant family tree
© LDA Sachsen-Anhalt

Using state-of-the-art methods researchers decipher the DNA of ancient elephants and discover their family relations to be quite different

New research reveals that a giant elephant that lived 1.5 million to 100,000 years ago - ranging across Eurasia before it went extinct - is more closely related to today's African forest elephant than the forest elephant is to its nearest living relative, the African savannah elephant. The study challenges a long-held assumption among paleontologists that the extinct giant, Paleoloxodon antiquus, was most closely related to the Asian elephant. The findings, reported in the journal eLife on 06 June 2017, also add to the evidence that today's African elephants belong to two distinct species, not one, as was once assumed.

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Original publication

May 10, 2017: Extended analytical methods facilitate species conservation
© Paul Cools

Researchers develop new analytical methods that help them estimate the size of wild animal populations from a distance

Camera traps are a useful means for researchers to observe the behaviour of animal populations in the wild or to assess biodiversity levels of remote locations like the tropical rain forest. Researchers from the University of St Andrews, the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research recently extended distance sampling analytical methods to accommodate data from camera traps. This new development allows abundances of multiple species to be estimated from camera trapping data collected over relatively short time intervals – information critical to effective wildlife management and conservation.

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Original publication

May 03, 2017: Warfare may explain differences in social structures in chimpanzees and bonobos
© Zanna Clay (LuiKotale Bonobo Research Project)

Researchers found that chimpanzees associate more with partners of the same sex while bonobos of either sex associate preferentially with females

Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, compared data collected from several wild communities of our closest living relatives, chimpanzees and bonobos, which show that chimpanzees associate more with partners of the same sex while bonobos of either sex associate preferentially with females. This result can be explained by different needs for cooperation. While male chimpanzees cooperate with each other during strong between-group competition, comparable to human warfare, which is absent in bonobos, bonobo males mainly rely on the help of females, especially their mothers, in conflicts with other males within their community. Females of both species, however, cooperate with other females in raising offspring.

Link to press release

Original publication

April 27, 2017: DNA from extinct humans discovered in cave sediments
© MPI f. Evolutionary Anthropology/ J. Krause

Researchers have developed a new method to retrieve hominin DNA from cave sediments – even in the absence of skeletal remains

While there are numerous prehistoric sites in Europe and Asia that contain tools and other human-made artefacts, skeletal remains of ancient humans are scarce. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have therefore looked into new ways to get hold of ancient human DNA. From sediment samples collected at seven archaeological sites, the researchers “fished out” tiny DNA fragments that had once belonged to a variety of mammals, including our extinct human relatives. They retrieved DNA from Neandertals in cave sediments of four archaeological sites, also in layers where no hominin skeletal remains have been discovered. In addition, they found Denisovan DNA in sediments from Denisova Cave in Russia. These new developments now enable researchers to uncover the genetic affiliations of the former inhabitants of many archaeological sites which do not yield human remains.

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Link to press kit

Original publication

April 21, 2017: Leipzig conservationist Julia Cissewski wins "Goldene Bild der Frau" award
© Ronny Barr, MPI f. Evolutionary Anthropology

Leipzig conservationist Julia Cissewski is one of this year’s five winners of the “Goldene Bild der Frau”, awarded for charitable work by Germany’s most important women’s magazine “Bild der Frau”. Julia Cissewski, a staff member of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, is the president of the charity „Orang-Utans in Not e.V.” (Orangutans in peril). The organization works to protect wild orangutans and their habitat, the rainforest of Borneo and Sumatra. This is the first time that the prize has been awarded to a conservation project. The award ceremony will take place on October 21st, in Hamburg.

Link to press release (Orang-Utans in Not e.V., in German)

"Goldene Bild der Frau" award, winners 2017 (in German)

March 20, 2017: Bushmeat consumption decreases during the Ebola epidemic
© Jessica Junker

Household income and knowledge about health risks drive the consumption of wild animal meat in West Africa

New analyses of interview data collected in Liberia show a decrease in bushmeat consumption and meal frequency during the Ebola crisis. However, wealthy households reduced their consumption of bushmeat less than poor households. Moreover, people who had knowledge on the health risks associated with eating bushmeat reduced their consumption substantially more than people who lacked this knowledge.

Link to press release

Original publication

March 14, 2017: A newly discovered fossil human cranium from Portugal dated to be 400,000 years old
© Elena Santos

U-series (U-Th) dating of associated calcite formations constrains the age of the Middle Pleistocene cranium between 390,000 and 436,000 years.

An international team recently discovered a fossil human cranium in Portugal. The cranium was excavated in Gruta da Aroeira which is part of the Almonda cave system (Torres Novas, Portugal). The cranium was found in sediments which accumulated on top of a stalagmite column and calcite crusts also formed on the cranium after its burial. U-series dating of the calcite formations was done by Dirk Hoffmann from the Department of Human Evolution, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. The results provided maximum and minimum ages for the cranium and revealed an age between 390,000 and 436,000 years. The Aroeira specimen is the westernmost Middle Pleistocene cranium found in Europe and one of the best dated Middle Pleistocene specimen. It might help elucidate hominin evolution in Europe during the Middle Pleistocene, including the origin of the Neandertals. The study, led by J. Daura from the University of Lisbon, included researchers from Portugal, Spain, Germany and the US.

Link to press release (University of Lisbon)

Original publication

February 24, 2017: "It's a miracle that there are still chimpanzees at all"
© Wild Chimpanzee Foundation

Interview with primate researcher Christophe Boesch

Christophe Boesch, the Director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, has been researching chimpanzees in the Ivory Coast for over 35 years. In Taï National Park, the Max Planck scientist oversees three research camps that scientists can use for their research projects. Scientists have observed these wild chimpanzees, which have grown used to the presence of humans, over the course of several years. This has afforded them a wealth of new insights into the animals’ lives.

Interview with Christophe Boesch