Although olfactory communication in great apes received minor attention during the past, recent studies showed that the olfactory sense might be more important than previously thought. Not only do apes use their sense of smell to examine their environment, for example to inspect food items, but they do also investigate traces of their conspecifics, like chimpanzees during boundary patrols, when they sniff at vegetation or the ground where other animals passed by. I am interested in the signals potentially transmitted through body odour. Therefore, I developed a method to sample body odour of great apes non-invasively and to analyse those samples via gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. During this project I want to investigate if (i) chimpanzees possess an olfactory fingerprint i.e., the individual odour signature is stable over time and if (ii) chimpanzees can discriminate between the odours of individual chimpanzees and if so I expect (iii) that individuals which are closely related have more similar olfactory profiles than non-related individuals. This way they could communicate relatedness potentially in the context of mate choice or affiliation.
My study is conducted at the Wolfgang Köhler Primate Research Center in the Leipzig Zoo, Germany.