Prof. Andrew Whiten, Director of Living Links, hands Prof. Aubrey Manning a gift to thank him for his services as Chairman of the Living Links/Budongo Consortium Board. Aubrey has chaired the Board since Living Links opened in 2008, and is now stepping down. Prof. Alan Miller, FRSE has agreed to take the chair. Alan was Vice Principal for Research at St Andrews at the time Living Links was being set up and has recently retired as Deputy Principal at Heriot Watt University.
A recently published study has shown that monkeys with similar personalities are more likely to have better relationships than those with very different personality traits. Some of the key indicators that were connected with how strong their relationships were linked to their levels of openess and sociability.
In order to determine the monkeys’ individual personality differences the researchers used a 54 trait personality questionnaire that the zookeepers completed for each monkey. Then to determine the quality of their relationships they conducted behaviour observations.
The behaviour study included noting how much time the monkeys would spend together, as well as what they were doing when they were together (e.g. aggression, food sharing, grooming etc).
While watching the monkeys Dr Morton noted high levels of affiliative behaviour between Popeye and Penelope (pictured above), as well as high levels of symmetry in their behaviours around the puzzle feeder. Interestingly, these two monkeys also had similar personality traits appearing in their scores from the keeper surveys.
The results remained true even when other factors such as sex, age and rank were controlled for. These findings mean that their personalities may play a role in the quality of their relationships beyond that of status and kinship.
Morton, F.B., Weiss, A. Buchanan-Smith, and Lee, P.C (2015). Capuchin monkeys with similar personalities have higher quality relationships independent of age, sex, kinship and rank. Animal Behaviour.105, pp. 163 -171.
During the Edinburgh International Science Festival we hosted an amazing event here at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo. It involved having our Animal Cultures stand up in Budongo Trail, a interactive trail around the zoo and a fierce competition of 6 soap box scientists all competing for the Living Links Public Engagement Prize. We are now happy to announce our winner is Dr Jill MacKay from Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC).
Jill explained the science of animal personality to our visitors by giving a great example about how some lions can be bold and some can be shy. She discussed how we can assess this scientifically by using novel object tests and then compare the reactions of a variety of individual lions to then give us a scale of boldness or shyness in lions.
Watch Jill’s talk now.
Monkey medicine has always been a very popular research project here at Living Links. It features in our learning resources, we worked with the Edinburgh International Science Festival in 2014 to run an event called Wild Medicine and now our researchers have inputted their work into this David Attenborough documentary.
On Monday March 2nd at 9pm Natural Curiosities – Curious Cures (Series 3, Episode 5) will be aired on ‘Watch’ (Sky 109, Virgin Media 124).
The first half of the documentary will discuss the amazing sunscreen adaptations that hippos have, and the second part will focus on how primates, specifically capuchins use pungent materials to prevent insect bites.
Watch our mini documentary below to see what smelly items our Living Links capuchins like to use!
Do you research animal cognition and behaviour? Do you love what you do? Then why not tell visitors at RZSS – Edinburgh Zoo how cool it is? The Living Links Public Engagement Prize is a new competition aimed at animal behaviour researchers. It is being run as part of our ‘Animal Cultures’ event in the Edinburgh International Science Festival.
The idea is simple. We give you a soapbox at the Zoo and three minutes to talk about your research. There’s no PowerPoint, no projector and only the props that you can carry and the zoo’s animals behind you. Zoo visitors will be able to vote for their favourite speaker; at the end of the weekend (April 18th-19th) we’ll total the visitors’ votes and crown our winner.
The soapbox stage will be moved around the zoo and we’ll aim to put you next to the species that you study (don’t worry if we don’t have your species, we’ll find a relevant alternative). We want as broad a range of species and topics as possible, as long as your research is on some aspect of animal behaviour, we want you.
See the zoo’s animal collection by clicking the link below
What’s the point of doing this?
RZSS – Edinburgh Zoo attracts around 650,000 visitors each year, this is your chance to tell some of them about your research and why it is so interesting. It’s a great opportunity for you to raise the profile of your work and of yourself.
It is also a chance to develop important public engagement and presentation skills (once you’ve done a talk with a gibbon calling in the background, that conference audience won’t seem so scary!). With public engagement becoming ever more important in funding and fellowship applications, you’ll have a head-start on building that experience.
I’m sold! How do I take part?
The first stage is to send us a recording of yourself talking about your research for three minutes (don’t worry we’ll give you a few seconds margin of error). You can film this on a smartphone or with a webcam. We’re not looking for spectacular camerawork or an Oscar-winning sound track, we want to see you talking with passion about your subject. As we have limited slots at the zoo, we will choose our finalists based on their videos.
Use We Transfer to send your entry to firstname.lastname@example.org by 27 March 2015. The finalists will be informed in the first week of April with the time of their talk. Videos will be judged on how well the research is presented and how engaging the presenter is. Please remember that you will be talking to a family audience, we won’t discriminate against any topic, but please bear this in mind when you are preparing your talk.
Finalists will get free entry to the zoo on the day of their talk and there is a £50 voucher (and personal glory) for the winner.
Note – Living Links has been used as an example of good practice by NCCPE
New research led by scientists from the University of York and the University of Zurich provide the first evidence that chimpanzees can ‘learn’ calls that refer to particular objects.
The paper by Watson, SK., Townsend, SW, Schel, AM., Wilke, C., Wallace, EK., Cheng, L., West, V. and Slocombe, KE. ‘Vocal Learning in the Functionally Referential Food Grunts of Chimpanzees’ has just been published in Current Biology.
Over many years researchers here at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo have been studying the various food calls of our chimpanzees. Dr Katie Slocombe, one of the senior scientists on this recently released paper has been involved in researching Edinburgh’s chimpanzees since 2002, so she and her colleagues have gathered a great wealth of knowledge on our troop.
If you are a regular follower of this blog or a visitor to Edinburgh Zoo you may know that in 2010 a new group of adult chimpanzees from Beekse Bergen Safari Park in the Netherlands were integrated with our Edinburgh chimpanzees. These new additions to our troop gave researchers a unique opportunity to investigate whether chimpanzees can change their food calls when they become incorporated into a new group.
Chimpanzees give distinct grunts when they find different types of food, and other chimpanzees understand the meaning of those grunts. They will give a high pitched sound for a preferred food and lower for less preferred item. Katie, Stuart and their colleagues found before integration the animals had different grunts for apples as well as different preferences for apples. They discovered that the Dutch chimpanzees modified their grunts referring to apples so that, three years after integration of the two groups, their calls were very similar to those produced by the resident Edinburgh chimpanzees.
Does this mean our Dutch chimps have learnt to speak Scottish?
Want to learn more about how we study chimpanzee communication, watch one of our learning resources videos.
or click on this BBC news link below to hear more about this amazing research and what our zoo visitors think too!
Sharing is a prosocial behaviour, one that individuals do to benefit others. Living Links researchers and others from American institutes have recently published a paper looking at how these three species compare.
The main aims of the research were to;
1 – Compare the ability to be prosocial in chimpanzees, capuchins and humans of various ages by using the same method across all three species.
2 – Investigate if experiencing prosocial behaviour will then in turn influence individuals to be more prosocial.
The apparatus that was used in the study has been nick named the ‘Shelfish Apparatus’. The device has two sliding shelves with rewards on them of varying levels (i.e. some high food rewards and some low food rewards). One primate has the power to pull the shelf where the other will just receive what the other primate has chosen in the pull.
Note: Stickers were used in the human test scenarios instead of food items.
In the first part of the study where the species were compared against each other they tested various scenarios. In all cases the puller was always given 2 shelves with rewards of the same value, the receiver side had the varying levels of rewards.
Some of the scenarios they tested were;
Empty control – They could pull the shelf towards them to receive a reward with no one next to them.
Prosocial option – They could pull the shelves with a neighbour there to also receive a reward.
The results showed the most significant prosocial behaviours occurred in separated chimpanzees when they received a more preferred food reward.
Adult humans would still pull the shelf with a more preferred reward for their partner even if they received a less preferred reward themselves.
Finally like the chimpanzees, the older human children were only significantly prosocial when they received a more preferred reward.
As for our capuchins…well when they were tested in the prosocial condition they only gave the receiver a more preferred food reward by chance.
In the second part of the study our researchers wanted to find out if experiencing prosocial behaviour would then encourage and individual to then become more prosocial.
They tested this in a very clever way that took out the chances of the prosocial behaviour just being reciprocal. The experiments were run in three phases with chimps, children and capuchins.
In the first phase was done the same as the prosocial condition in the above tests. The second phase let them experience another primate that was always prosocial to them and then third they were retested with their original partner.
In this study chimpanzees were significantly more likely to be prosocial after they experienced someone being prosocial to them. This was also true for the children aged 7 and older. Both the capuchins and younger children were still only demonstrating prosocial behaviour by chance.
So what do these results mean in terms of the evolution of prosocial behaviours?
One of the authors on the paper, Professor Whiten states:
“We believe our study is the first to demonstrate that the prosocial behaviour of humans and non-human primates is shaped by the everyday social actions of those around them. Kindness may thrive, evolve and inspire when helping, sharing or donating are part of the cultural experience.”
To read the full article click on the reference link below.
Claidiere, N., Whiten, A., Mareno, M.C., Messer, E.J.E., Brosnan, S.F., Hopper, L.M. Lambeth, S.P., Schapiro, S.J. & McGuigan, N. (2015). Selective and contagious prosocial resource donation in capuchin monkeys, chimpanzees and humans. Scientific Reports, 5: 7631. DOI: 10.1038/srep07631
Have you ever taken a MOOC, a Massive Open Online Course? MOOCs are open access, unlimited participation courses that you can take from many leading Universities.
University of Edinburgh lecturers Dr Kenny Smith and Dr Suilin Lavelle filmed here at Edinburgh Zoo this summer to highlight many aspects of their course.
The full online MOOC entitled Philosophy and the Sciences is 8 weeks long and is split in 2 parts.
The discussions and topics in Part 2 are wonderfully highlighted by our capuchins and chimpanzees here in Living Links and the Budongo Trail.
Kenny and Suilin discuss how animals have not only evolved by physically adapting to their environment but also mentally. In addition they discuss how social learning can create animal traditions or cultures. Cultures such as different means of using tools in various chimpanzee or capuchin groups.
Click on the link below to sign up to the MOOC!
From the 14th to the 16th of November the Living Links and St Andrews University researchers attended the Great British Bioscience Festival held in London.
Our stand entitled Animal Cultures demonstrated a wide variety of cultural research conducted with many species including; humpback whales, crows, meerkats and of course our Living Links monkeys.
Don’t worry if you didn’t make it to the festival many of our videos from the stall are available online
and the ‘When in Rome…’ interactive is also available
The event was a huge success with over 6,500 people visiting the marquee over the 3 days. Click on our gallery to see our researchers in action.
Twenty of our squirrel monkeys have been personality surveyed by our keepers. This entails the keepers giving our monkeys scores on certain characteristics in their behaviours. For example they look at traits such as sociability, curiousity and timidity (Fig 1).
These traits can then be categorised into broad personality factors. For humans we have five recognised personality factors, whereas the squirrel monkeys are seen to have four (Fig 2).
Some of our squirrel monkeys like Ellie and Georgette (Fig.3) have scored high in assertiveness, whereas others like Toomi and Salvador have scored higher in impulsiveness.
You are probably wondering ‘when does the poo come into this story?’ And the answer is now.
Vanessa Wilson from Edinburgh University has gained the personality profiles of our monkeys from the zoo keepers’ surveys. What she can now look to see is if these match up with specific genes in the monkeys’ DNA. The way we get the DNA from the monkeys is by sampling their faeces.
To be sure we match up the right monkey to the correct faecal sample we need to add a marker to their food. Glitter is perfect for this, in fact silver and green glitter seem to work the best (Fig. 4).
What we are looking for in the DNA of our monkeys are variations in some very specific genes. The ones in question are named DRD4, 5HTT and MAOA. These genes are directly linked with either dopamine or serotonin systems in the brain (Fig 5).
Dopamine and serotonin play a large role in animal behaviour and personality, so differences in these genes may allow us to see why some of our animals have different personality types.
Similar research has taken place with other animals too, including elephants, orangutans, and dogs. The more species we study, the greater understanding we will have on the connections between animal genes and behaviour. This knowledge can then help us to ensure genetic diversity in captive breeding programmes as well as tailoring or animal care procedures for specific personality types.