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News/Press releases

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November 08, 2018: Re-inventing the hook
© Graham L Banes

Orangutans spontaneously bend straight wires into hooks to fish for food

The bending of a hook into wire to fish for the handle of a basket is surprisingly challenging for young children under eight years of age. Now cognitive biologists and comparative psychologists from the University of Vienna, the University of St Andrews and the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna around Isabelle Laumer and Alice Auersperg studied hook tool making for the first time in a non-human primate species – the orangutan. To the researchers' surprise the apes spontaneously manufactured hook tools out of straight wire within the very first trial and in a second task unbent curved wire to make a straight tool. The study was conducted in cooperation with the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology at the Zoo Leipzig in Germany.

Link to press release (University of Vienna)

Original publication

November 05, 2018: Orangutans: Scientists call for better monitoring
Photo: HUTAN-KOCP

Despite government claims, orangutan populations have not increased

Orangutan populations are still declining rapidly, despite claims by the Indonesian Government that things are looking better for the red apes. In the journal Current Biology, a team of scientists including Maria Voigt of the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology criticise the use of inappropriate methods for assessing management impacts on wildlife trends. The researchers call for scientifically sound measures to be employed in order to ensure that wildlife monitoring provides reliable numbers.

Link to press release (iDiv)

Original publication

October 24, 2018: Chimpanzees sniff out strangers and family members
© Stefanie Henkel

To recognize conspecifics chimpanzees use their sense of smell

Primates, including humans, are usually thought of as visual animals with reduced reliance on the sense of smell. Research on olfaction in non-human great apes is particularly scarce, although we know that wild chimpanzees sniff the ground and vegetation while patrolling the borders of their territory. In behavioral experiments at Leipzig Zoo, an international team of researchers from the University of Leipzig and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and Durham University, UK, have now found that chimpanzees use olfaction as a prime mode of investigation, and that they recognize group members and kin using olfactory cues.

Link to press release

Original publication

October 22, 2018: Bonobo: great ape with a tiny voice
© Cédric Girard-Buttoz, LuiKotale, D.R. Kongo

Bonobos make themselves appear smaller than they actually are

In general, one cannot only see how tall an animal or a person is, one can also hear it, because with increasing body size the pitch decreases. Although bonobos and chimpanzees are similar in size, bonobo calls sound an octave higher than chimpanzee calls. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, explain this discrepancy with the fact that the vocal folds of bonobos are only half as long as those of chimpanzees of the same age. Whether or not other factors have contributed to this discrepancy is subject to further research.

Link to press release

Original publication

October 18, 2018: Monkeys do not start to resemble their parents before puberty
© Klaus Leipholz / Anja Widdig

Facial resemblance of rhesus macaques with their parents increases with age

Most humans are good at identifying pairs of close relatives amongst the faces of unfamiliar adults. Non-human primates can also recognise their kin using visual cues, but little is known about the age at which facial resemblance between parents and their offspring becomes apparent. A team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig and the University of Leipzig presented experienced human raters with digital images of rhesus macaques of different ages and asked them to identify related individuals. The researchers found that, although infant rhesus macaque faces are individually distinguishable, only just before they reach puberty can offspring be matched correctly to the faces of their parents.

Link to press release

Original publication

October 10, 2018: Wild chimpanzees share food with their friends
© Liran Samuni, Taï Chimpanzee Project

Chimpanzee are selective when it comes to sharing food: friends and individuals who helped acquiring the food benefit more often

Why share food with non-family members when there is no immediate gain? An international team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI-EVA) in Leipzig, Germany, conducted observations of natural food sharing behavior of the chimpanzees of the Taï National Park, Ivory Coast. They found that chimpanzees who possess large, desirable food items, like meat, honey or large fruit share food with their friends, and that neither high dominance status nor harassment by beggars influenced possessors’ decisions to share.

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Original publication

October 04, 2018: Bone knife from Morocco: oldest specialized bone tool associated with Aterian culture
© INSAP/Oxford University

New find indicates the appearance of a unique technological complex in North Africa around 90,000 years ago

A single bone artefact found in a Moroccan cave is the oldest well-dated specialized bone tool associated with the Aterian culture of the Middle Stone Age, according to a study led by Abdeljalil Bouzouggar of the Institut National des Sciences de l’Archéologie et du Patrimoine in Rabat, Morocco, and associated researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. The make and manufacture of the tool are distinct from similarly-aged sub-Saharan artefacts, suggesting a unique technological industry in North Africa.

Press release (PDF)

Original publication

September 27, 2018: Principles of limb regeneration in salamanders show link to mammals
© T. Kulcsar

New findings have high relevance for understanding regeneration in mammals

Among all four-legged animals, the ability of salamanders to replace lost limbs even as adult animals is unique. This has made some species of salamander, such as the Mexican axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum), popular model organisms for studying regeneration. If an axolotl loses a limb, then cells from near the stump accumulate and form a tissue called blastema. The blastema can grow back a fully functional limb composed of many different tissues and cell types, such as muscles, neurons or connective tissue. Until now, it was unclear how mature tissue can produce blastema cells. A study published in "Science" took a closer look at connective tissue cells to shed light on this issue.

Link to press release (IMP Vienna)

Original publication

September 10, 2018: Wild chimpanzees cooperate in hunting
© Liran Samuni, Tai Chimpanzee Project

Active participation in group-hunts earns wild chimpanzees meat access

The gains from cooperative hunting and meat sharing are seen as fundamental drivers in the evolution and the life history traits of the human species. Group hunting, however, also occurs amongst non-human animals. The extent to which these group-hunts are cooperative, in that participation is beneficial, remains elusive. Wild chimpanzees of the Taï National Park, Ivory Coast, hunt in groups to catch monkeys. By observing group-hunts and meat sharing, an international team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, found that chimpanzee hunting behavior is a cooperative act that earns participants a fair share of the prey.

Link to press release

Original publication

August 29, 2018: Getting to the roots of our ancient cousin's diet
© Kornelius Kupczik, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

The splay of tooth roots reveals how South African hominins, Australopithecus africanus and Paranthropus robustus, chewed their food

Ever since the discovery of the fossil remains of Australopithecus africanus from Taung nearly a century ago, and subsequent discoveries of Paranthropus robustus, there have been disagreements about the diets of these two South African hominin species. By analysing the splay and orientation of fossil hominin tooth roots, an international team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig (Germany), the University of Chile (Chile) and the University of Oxford (UK) now suggests that Paranthropus robustus had a unique way of chewing food not seen in other hominins, which seems to explain the unique suite of characters observed in this species.

Link to press release

Original publication

August 22, 2018: Neandertal mother, Denisovan father!
© T. Higham, University of Oxford

Newly-sequenced genome sheds lights on interactions between ancient hominins

Up until 40,000 years ago, at least two groups of hominins inhabited Eurasia – Neandertals in the west and Denisovans in the east. Now, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI-EVA) in Leipzig (Germany) sequenced the genome of an ancient hominin individual from Siberia, and discovered that she had a Neandertal mother and a Denisovan father.

Link to press release

Link to press kit

Original publication

August 10, 2018: Tough life for chimpanzees in the savannah
© Adam van Casteren

Chimpanzee foods are mechanically more demanding than previously thought and might give clues about the evolution of the chewing apparatus in hominins

While forest dwelling chimpanzees mostly feed on ripe fruits commonly considered easy to process, savannah chimpanzees include more challenging non-fruit items into their diet. A study led by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig has analysed the mechanical properties and the isotopic composition of plant foods eaten by chimpanzees living in the tropical forest and savannah woodland. They found that the savannah chimpanzees eat foods that are more mechanically challenging and therefore may place higher selective pressures on their chewing apparatus compared to their conspecifics living in the rainforest. Since early hominins likely evolved in an environment similar to that of today’s savannah woodland chimpanzees, our early ancestors may have encountered similarly challenging foods.

Link to press release

Original publication

July 19, 2018: Monkeys benefit from chimpanzees' and hogs' nut-cracking abilities
© Taï Chimpanzee Project, Alexander Mielke

Mangabey monkeys get free access to fresh tropical nuts by profiting from the nut-cracking skills of chimpanzees and the strong jaws of hogs

An international team of researchers led by Karline Janmaat of the University of Amsterdam and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology describes for the first time the scavenging behaviour of mangabey monkeys, guinea fowls, and squirrels on energy-rich nut remnants cracked by chimpanzees and red river hogs. The team used a unique set of data collected by camera traps in the rain forest of Taï National Park in Ivory Coast, which recorded the animals’ behaviour without humans being present. The results reveal new unknown interactions between, and potential trade-offs faced by different species and increases our understanding of the complex community of animals foraging around tropical nut trees.

Press release (PDF)

Original publication

July 11, 2018: Primates adjust grooming to their social environment
© MPI f. Evolutionary Anthropology/ A. Mielke

Not only the attractiveness of a potential grooming partner matters to wild chimpanzees and sooty mangabeys, their choice also depends on who is observing them

When humans cooperate with others they take their previous experiences with specific individuals into account, as well as their usefulness for carrying out a specific task. Moreover, they consider whether a better candidate is available, and whether the potential cooperation partner is actually reliable. Researcher of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, show that wild chimpanzees and sooty mangabeys, two primate species who live in complex social groups, choose their grooming partners based on a variety of criteria, including their social relationship with them and their potential partner’s dominance rank. In particular, individuals of both species avoided grooming group mates whose friends were among the bystanders, as grooming might be interrupted.

Link to press release

Original publication

July 11, 2018: Our fractured African roots
© Yasmine Gateau/Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History

Humans did not stem from a single ancestral population in one region of Africa, as is often claimed. Instead, our African ancestors were diverse in form and culture, and scattered across the entire continent

A scientific consortium led by Dr. Eleanor Scerri, British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Oxford and researcher at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, has found that human ancestors were scattered across Africa, and largely kept apart by a combination of diverse habitats and shifting environmental boundaries, such as forests and deserts. Millennia of separation gave rise to a staggering diversity of human forms, whose mixing ultimately shaped our species. Philipp Gunz of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology contributed to this study.

Link to press release (MPI-SHH)

Original publication

June 28, 2018: Chimpanzees start using a new tool-use gesture during an alpha male take over
© TCP/Liran Samuni

Chimpanzee pant hoots are longer and more salient when males combine it with the "leaf clip" gesture

Similar to humans, non-human primates combine gestures, facial expressions, and vocalizations in various ways to communicate effectively. Chimpanzees have a well-described repertoire of both gestural and vocal signals that they use to communicate naturally in the wild, some of which show evidence for cultural variation. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology investigated one such signal, the ‘leaf clip’ gesture, which re-emerged in a wild chimpanzee group during an alpha takeover after being absent for almost two years. Importantly, the gesture was produced only by adult male chimpanzees and immediately preceded their pant hoot vocalizations and was associated with acoustic changes in those calls.

Press release (PDF)

Male chimpanzee leaf clips with pant hoot and drumming (© TCP/Liran Samuni)

Original publication

June 21, 2018: Körber European Science Prize for Svante Pääbo
© Karsten Möbius

The director at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig is honoured for his pioneering achievements in the field of paleogenetics

One of Svante Pääbo's most important scientific achievements is the decoding of the Neanderthal genome. His work has revolutionized our understanding of the evolutionary history of modern man, according to the jury. For example, he has shown that Neanderthals and other extinct hominids have made a significant contribution to the lineage of today's people.

Link to press release

June 20, 2018: How's that grab you?
© Johanna Eckert

International research team investigates intuitive ability of chimpanzees

For decades, scientists assumed that statistical abilities were closely linked with language abilities and mathematical education. An international team of researchers from the University of Göttingen, the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig and the University of St. Andrews in Scotland has now shown that great apes are also intuitive statisticians: They are able to intuitively identify relationships between samples and populations and infer probabilities from them. The results of the study were published in the scientific journal Current Biology.

Link to press release (Georg-August-Universität Göttingen)

Original publication

June 06, 2018: Bridging the gap between human and animal communication
© Claudia Wascher

Researchers propose new framework to compare human and nonhuman animal turn-taking skills empirically and to shed further light on the evolutionary roots of language

Cooperative turn-taking has been suggested as an ancient mechanism of the language system bridging the existing gap between the articulate human species and our inarticulate primate cousins. An international team of researchers, including Simone Pika from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Ray Wilkinson from the University of Sheffield, Kobin Kendrick from the University of York in the UK, and Sonja Vernes from the Max Planck Institute of Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands now provide an overview of the state of the art and present a new comparative framework on turn-taking to unravel the evolutionary roots of language.

Press release (PDF)

Original publication

May 31, 2018: Number of wild mountain gorillas exceeds 1,000
© Martha Robbins, MPI-EVA

The population of mountain gorillas in the Virunga Volcanoes has more than doubled in the past three decades

A recent census of the critically endangered mountain gorillas, Gorilla beringei beringei, conducted in the Virunga Volcanoes found a minimum of 604 individuals. In combination with the 400 individuals living in the only other population in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda, these new results push the total number of wild mountain gorillas in the world to over 1000. Conducting the census was a large collaborative effort among the park services of the three countries where mountain gorillas live, several non-governmental conservation organizations, and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

Link to press release

May 23, 2018: Chimpanzee calls differ according to context
© Liran Samuni

The need for cooperation may facilitate call diversification

An important question in the evolution of language is what caused animal calls to diversify and to encode different information. Alarm calls are important to warn group members in dangerous situations. But in which contexts are quiet calls used? An international team of scientists led by Catherine Crockford of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, has now looked into the causes of call variation in less urgent contexts and found that chimpanzees use the quiet “hoo” call in three different behavioural contexts – alert, travel and rest. The need to stay together in low visibility habitat may have facilitated the evolution of call subtypes, with each call informing receivers how to respond in order for signaller and receiver to stay together.

Press release (PDF)

Original publication

May 15, 2018: Savanna chimpanzees suffer from heat stress
© Erin Wessling

Regulating their body temperature to prevent overheating is a burden for chimpanzees living in the African savanna

When humans started settling in more open and hot habitats during their evolution, they had to adapt to the new environmental conditions and, possibly, to develop protection against overheating and to find ways to consume enough food for their survival. An international team of scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig has studied the physiological parameters of savanna and rainforest chimpanzees in two studies and compared their water and energy budgets as well as their stress levels. They found that the stress of maintaining their body temperature is a tremendous burden on chimpanzees living in the savanna.

Link to press release

Original publication (Journal of Human Evolution)

Original publication (Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution)

April 25, 2018: Gorillas and chimpanzees: more than expected, but in danger
© Emma Stokes/WCS

Massive study finds more gorillas and chimpanzees than previously thought, but 80% are outside the safe havens of protected areas

A study estimates that more than 360,000 gorillas and nearly 130,000 chimpanzees still inhabit the forests of Africa approximately – one third and one tenth more than previously thought. However, approximately 80 percent of these great apes live outside protected areas, and gorillas are declining at an annual rate of 2.7 percent. Efforts to stop poaching, illegal logging, and habitat degradation and destruction are key to saving great apes. Conservationists from several organizations and government agencies gathered and analysed data on western lowland gorilla and central chimpanzee populations in the largest ever survey of these great apes that live exclusively in Western equatorial Africa. The field work for the study collectively took 167 person-years, with the researchers walking a distance longer than the north-south axis of Africa. The study was led by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). Among the authors is Hjalmar Kühl from the iDiv research centre and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

Link to press release (iDiv)

Original publication

April 25, 2018: Rhythm crucial to drummed speech
© Gaiamedia/ Aexcram

Amazonian Bora people mimic the rhythm of their language for communication over large distances using drums

How can an entire language be mapped onto beats on two drums? To answer this question, an international team of researchers, including Frank Seifart and Sven Grawunder of the former Department of Linguistics at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig and Julien Meyer from the Université Grenoble Alpes in France carried out research into the drummed speech system of the Bora people of the Northwest Amazon. What they found was that the Boras not only reproduce the melody of words and sentences in this endangered language, but also their rhythm. This suggests the crucial role of linguistic rhythm in language processing has been underestimated.

Link to press release

Original publication

March 26, 2018: New standards for ancient protein studies set forth by multi-national group of researchers
© Franziska Irmer

The new field of palaeoproteomics, harnessing cutting-edge techniques to analyze ancient proteins, is growing quickly. Researchers set out standards and precautions that aim to provide it with a firm foundation.

A team of researchers from institutions at the leading edge of the new field of palaeoproteomics have published guidelines to provide it with a firm foundation. Ancient proteins are used to study everything from extinct species to ancient human diets to the evolution of diseases, and more. The guide, published in Nature Ecology & Evolution, aims to support good practices in the field and to ensure the generation of robust, reproducible results. Researcher Frido Welker of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig is a co-lead author of the study.

Link to press release (MPI-SHH)

Original publication

March 23, 2018: Germany was covered by glaciers 450,000 years ago
© MPI f. Evolutionary Anthropology

New chronological data for the Middle Pleistocene glacial cycles push back the first glaciation and early human appearance in central Germany by about 100.000 years

Using state-of-the-art dating techniques researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have obtained new chronological data for the timing of the Elsterian and Saalian glacial cycles in central Germany. They found that the first Quaternary glaciation, which covered huge parts of Europe in ice, occurred as early as 450,000 years ago and not – as previously thought – around 350,000 years ago. The researcher further showed that once these glaciers had retreated, the first people appeared in central Germany around 400,000 years ago.

Link to press release

Link to original publication

March 21, 2018: New insights into the late history of Neandertals
© I. Crevecoeur

The genomes of five late Neandertals provide insights into Neandertal population history

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany have sequenced the genomes of five Neandertals that lived between 39,000 and 47,000 years ago, thereby learning about some of the last remaining Neandertals in Eurasia. These late Neandertals are all more closely related to the Neandertals that contributed DNA to modern human ancestors than an older Neandertal from the Altai Mountains that was previously sequenced. Their genomes also provide evidence for a turnover in the Neandertal population towards the end of Neandertal history.

Link to press release

Link to press kit

Original publication

March 15, 2018: Scientists analyse oldest human DNA from Africa
© Abdeljalil Bouzouggar

Researchers find connections from Moroccan Stone Age dwellers to ancient Near Eastern and sub-Saharan African populations

An international team of researchers have sequenced DNA from individuals from Morocco dating to approximately 15,000 years ago. This is the oldest nuclear DNA from Africa ever successfully analyzed. The study, published in Science, shows that the individuals, dating to the Late Stone Age, had a genetic heritage that was in part similar to ancient Levantine Natufians and an uncharacterized sub-Saharan African lineage to which modern West Africans are genetically closest. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology contributed to this study.

Link to press release (MPI-SHH)

Original publication

March 07, 2018: Homo naledi had wear-resistant molars
© MPI f. Evolutionary Anthropology

The enigmatic 300,000-year-old South African hominin ate a lot of dust, grit, or phytoliths, silica ‘plant stones’

Homo naledi’s relatively taller and more wear resistant molars enabled it to have a much more abrasive diet than other South African hominins. This is the result of a recent study by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, the University of Durham in the United Kingdom and the University of Arkansas in the United States. The researchers conclude that Homo naledi may have eaten a much grittier diet than other South African hominins.

Link to press release

Original publication

February 22, 2018: Neanderthals thought like we do
© P. Saura

As early as 64,000 years ago Iberian Neanderthals created cave paintings

At least 70,000 years ago Homo sapiens used perforated marine shells and colour pigments. From around 40,000 years ago he created decorative items, jewellery and cave art in Europe. Using Uranium-Thorium dating an international team of researchers co-directed by Dirk Hoffmann of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, now demonstrates that more than 115,000 years ago Neanderthals produced symbolic objects, and that they created cave art more than 20,000 years before modern humans first arrived in Europe. The researchers conclude that our cousins’ cognitive abilities were equivalent to our own.

Link to press release

Link to press kit

Original publication (Science)

Original publication (Science Advances)

February 15, 2018: Dramatic decline of Bornean orangutans
© Serge Wich

Global demand for natural resources has reduced the number of orangutans by more than 100,000 animals in the last 16 years

Nearly 50 years of conservation efforts have been unable to prevent orangutan numbers on Borneo from plummeting. The latest data published by a team from 38 international institutions, led by researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) and Liverpool John Moores University in Great Britain, suggests that between 1999 and 2015 the total number of Bornean orangutans was reduced by more than 100,000 animals.

Link to press release

Original publication

Video abstract

January 24, 2018: Modern human brain organization emerged only recently
© MPI EVA/ S. Neubauer, Ph. Gunz (License: CC-BY-SA 4.0)

Homo sapiens fossils demonstrate a gradual evolution of the human brain towards its modern globular shape

In a paper researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, reveal how and when the typical globular brain shape of modern humans evolved. Their analyses based on changes in endocranial size and shape in Homo sapiens fossils show that brain organization, and possibly brain function, evolved gradually within our species and unexpectedly reached modern conditions only recently.

Link to press release

Original publication