30.08.2014 - 08:12
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Department of Primatology

Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Deutscher Platz 6
04103 Leipzig

phone: +49 (341) 3550 - 200
fax: +49 (341) 3550 - 299

Barbara Fruth

Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Department of Primatology
Deutscher Platz 6
D-04103 Leipzig, Germany

phone: +49 341 3550 252
e-mail: fruth@[>>> Please remove the brackets! <<<]eva.mpg.de

Research Interests

Bonobos (Pan paniscus) became my major research interest as they had challenged the traditional concepts of human evolution. Their most striking peculiarities with respect to biological paradigms and in comparison to their sister species, the chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), were seen in their:

  1. social organisation, with cooperation and bonding among females despite exogamy and thus a low degree of relatedness, and lack of cooperation among males despite male philopatry;
  2. remarkable mating behaviour, with a broad spectrum of sexual interactions including social sex;
  3. moderate aggression, with particular focus on males, and the resulting social structure with females
    (co-)dominating males despite sexual dimorphism biased toward males;
  4. moderate to absent hunting, but sharing of fruit; and
  5. lack of material culture.

When I started to study bonobos at Lomako in 1990, my goal was to investigate the adaptive significance of their social behaviour within the ecological context of their natural environment. Part of this work resulted in my PhD (1995).
For my post-doctoral work (1996-1998), I started a study of the overlap in the use of plant resources by humans and apes. Despite the large proportion of human food deriving from slash and burn agriculture, forest resources also made important contributions to the day-to-day living of the riverine human population, and the overlap of plant species used by both humans and bonobos was notable. These studies were interrupted in 1998 by the second Congo war.

These projects conducted at Lomako were funded by the Max-Planck-Society (Forschungsstelle für Humanethologie, Erling & Max-Planck-Institute for Behavioural Physiology, Seewiesen), Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), and the Miami-University Oxford, Ohio.

I continued field-research at LuiKotale in 2002, the new site Gottfried Hohmann and I had initiated to continue our investigations on bonobo behavioral ecology. Here, my proximate interest was to identi-, quanti- and qualify the flora of our new site with respect to its historic, current and potential future anthropogenic use. My ultimate goal was to identify socio-cultural and economic aspects of biodiversity to better conserve endangered refuges of local and global significance. This project, “The Cuvette Centrale as a reservoir of medicinal plants”, was conducted under the umbrella of the program "Biodiversity and Global Change (BIOLOG)”, seeking to implement the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) with its three major objectives: 1) conservation of biological diversity, 2) sustainable use of its component, and 3) fair and equitable sharing of the benefits.
It was funded from 2001-2010 by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

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Current investigations try to reconcile the lessons learned from human (Homo sapiens) and bonobo behavioural ecology since representatives of our own species depend on the same habitat as do bonobos, but impact bonobos more than any other species. Threats and chances of this ecological, genetic and cultural proximity lead to investigations with focus on conservation, conducting bonobo viability assessments (funded by the ARCUS-foundation); environmental education (funded by the US-Fish and Wildlife Society); plant animal interactions (in collaboration with the Dijon University of Bourgogne); and with focus on health, investigating emerging zoonotic diseases (in collaboration with RKI and funded by the German Research Council (DFG) and RKI).

While the documentation concerning the species’ overlap with respect to plant use, the threats and chances for dwindling natural resources in DR Congo, and ethno-medicinal knowledge as a starting point to better document and understand bonobo self-medication are not yet completed, I am in the process to finalize my post-doctoral lecture qualification (Habilitation) at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, I had interrupted in 1999 for the sake of project continuity in times of political, financial and familial constraints.