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Concept: Gorilla


Recently, economists and behavioral scientists have studied the pattern of human well-being over the lifespan. In dozens of countries, and for a large range of well-being measures, including happiness and mental health, well-being is high in youth, falls to a nadir in midlife, and rises again in old age. The reasons for this U-shape are still unclear. Present theories emphasize sociological and economic forces. In this study we show that a similar U-shape exists in 508 great apes (two samples of chimpanzees and one sample of orangutans) whose well-being was assessed by raters familiar with the individual apes. This U-shaped pattern or “midlife crisis” emerges with or without use of parametric methods. Our results imply that human well-being’s curved shape is not uniquely human and that, although it may be partly explained by aspects of human life and society, its origins may lie partly in the biology we share with great apes. These findings have implications across scientific and social-scientific disciplines, and may help to identify ways of enhancing human and ape well-being.

Concepts: Human, Middle age, Primate, Hominidae, Chimpanzee, Gorilla, Ape, Apes


Vocal fold control was critical to the evolution of spoken language, much as it today allows us to learn vowel systems. It has, however, never been demonstrated directly in a non-human primate, leading to the suggestion that it evolved in the human lineage after divergence from great apes. Here, we provide the first evidence for real-time, dynamic and interactive vocal fold control in a great ape during an imitation “do-as-I-do” game with a human demonstrator. Notably, the orang-utan subject skilfully produced “wookies” - an idiosyncratic vocalization exhibiting a unique spectral profile among the orang-utan vocal repertoire. The subject instantaneously matched human-produced wookies as they were randomly modulated in pitch, adjusting his voice frequency up or down when the human demonstrator did so, readily generating distinct low vs. high frequency sub-variants. These sub-variants were significantly different from spontaneous ones (not produced in matching trials). Results indicate a latent capacity for vocal fold exercise in a great ape (i) in real-time, (ii) up and down the frequency spectrum, (iii) across a register range beyond the species-repertoire and, (iv) in a co-operative turn-taking social setup. Such ancestral capacity likely provided the neuro-behavioural basis of the more fine-tuned vocal fold control that is a human hallmark.

Concepts: Human, Primate, Hominidae, Chimpanzee, Gorilla, Ape, Human evolution, Catarrhini


For social species such as primates, the recognition of conspecifics is crucial for their survival. As demonstrated by the ‘face inversion effect’, humans are experts in recognizing faces and unlike objects, recognize their identity by processing it configurally. The human face, with its distinct features such as eye-whites, eyebrows, red lips and cheeks signals emotions, intentions, health and sexual attraction and, as we will show here, shares important features with the primate behind. Chimpanzee females show a swelling and reddening of the anogenital region around the time of ovulation. This provides an important socio-sexual signal for group members, who can identify individuals by their behinds. We hypothesized that chimpanzees process behinds configurally in a way humans process faces. In four different delayed matching-to-sample tasks with upright and inverted body parts, we show that humans demonstrate a face, but not a behind inversion effect and that chimpanzees show a behind, but no clear face inversion effect. The findings suggest an evolutionary shift in socio-sexual signalling function from behinds to faces, two hairless, symmetrical and attractive body parts, which might have attuned the human brain to process faces, and the human face to become more behind-like.

Concepts: Human, Primate, Hominidae, Chimpanzee, Gorilla, Human evolution, Bonobo, Common Chimpanzee


Humans are unique among primates for not only engaging in same-sex sexual acts, but also forming homosexual pair bonds. To shed light on the evolutionary origins of homosexuality, data on the occurrence and contexts of same-sex behavior from nonhuman primates may be of particular significance. Homosexual behavior involving females is poorly researched in most primate taxa, exceptions being Japanese macaques, rhesus macaques, Hanuman langurs and bonobos. We present data on homosexual behavior in female mountain gorillas in the Virunga Volcanoes (Rwanda) and test four functional hypotheses, namely reconciliation, affiliation, dominance expression and sexual arousal. Homosexual interactions between females involved both ventro-dorsal and ventro-ventral copulations accompanied by vocalizations and courtship displays. The only sociosexual hypothesis that received partial empirical support is the social status hypothesis, i.e., that mounting reaffirms the dominance hierarchy. There is also some limited evidence that same-sex behavior reflects an overall state of arousal or is triggered via a ‘pornographic’ effect. An adaptive function of female homosexual behavior is not readily apparent, and we tentatively conclude (until a more rigorous test becomes available) that it may simply be related to sexual gratification or that it is an evolutionary by-product of an adaptation.

Concepts: Sexual intercourse, Human, Macaque, Primate, Rhesus Macaque, Gorilla, Old World monkey, Homosexuality


Grauer’s gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri), the World’s largest primate, is confined to eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and is threatened by civil war and insecurity. During the war, armed groups in mining camps relied on hunting bushmeat, including gorillas. Insecurity and the presence of several militia groups across Grauer’s gorilla’s range made it very difficult to assess their population size. Here we use a novel method that enables rigorous assessment of local community and ranger-collected data on gorilla occupancy to evaluate the impacts of civil war on Grauer’s gorilla, which prior to the war was estimated to number 16,900 individuals. We show that gorilla numbers in their stronghold of Kahuzi-Biega National Park have declined by 87%. Encounter rate data of gorilla nests at 10 sites across its range indicate declines of 82-100% at six of these sites. Spatial occupancy analysis identifies three key areas as the most critical sites for the remaining populations of this ape and that the range of this taxon is around 19,700 km2. We estimate that only 3,800 Grauer’s gorillas remain in the wild, a 77% decline in one generation, justifying its elevation to Critically Endangered status on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Concepts: Endangered species, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Hominidae, Gorilla, Mountain Gorilla, Eastern Gorilla, IUCN Red List, Eastern Lowland Gorilla


Using a naturalistic video database, we examined whether gestures scaffold the symbolic development of a language-enculturated chimpanzee, a language-enculturated bonobo, and a human child during the second year of life. These three species constitute a complete clade: species possessing a common immediate ancestor. A basic finding was the functional and formal similarity of many gestures between chimpanzee, bonobo, and human child. The child’s symbols were spoken words; the apes' symbols were lexigrams - non-iconic visual signifiers. A developmental pattern in which gestural representation of a referent preceded symbolic representation of the same referent appeared in all three species (but was statistically significant only for the child). Nonetheless, across species, the ratio of symbol to gesture increased significantly with age. But even though their symbol production increased, the apes continued to communicate more frequently by gesture than by symbol. In contrast, by 15-18 months of age, the child used symbols more frequently than gestures. This ontogenetic sequence from gesture to symbol, present across the clade but more pronounced in child than ape, provides support for the role of gesture in language evolution. In all three species, the overwhelming majority of gestures were communicative (i.e., paired with eye contact, vocalization, and/or persistence). However, vocalization was rare for the apes, but accompanied the majority of the child’s communicative gestures. This species difference suggests the co-evolution of speech and gesture after the evolutionary divergence of the hominid line. Multimodal expressions of communicative intent (e.g., vocalization plus persistence) were normative for the child, but less common for the apes. This species difference suggests that multimodal expression of communicative intent was also strengthened after hominids diverged from apes.

Concepts: Human, Evolution, Language, Hominidae, Chimpanzee, Gorilla, Ape, Sign language


HIV-1, the cause of AIDS, is composed of four phylogenetic lineages, groups M, N, O, and P, each of which resulted from an independent cross-species transmission event of simian immunodeficiency viruses (SIVs) infecting African apes. Although groups M and N have been traced to geographically distinct chimpanzee communities in southern Cameroon, the reservoirs of groups O and P remain unknown. Here, we screened fecal samples from western lowland (n = 2,611), eastern lowland (n = 103), and mountain (n = 218) gorillas for gorilla SIV (SIVgor) antibodies and nucleic acids. Despite testing wild troops throughout southern Cameroon (n = 14), northern Gabon (n = 16), the Democratic Republic of Congo (n = 2), and Uganda (n = 1), SIVgor was identified at only four sites in southern Cameroon, with prevalences ranging from 0.8-22%. Amplification of partial and full-length SIVgor sequences revealed extensive genetic diversity, but all SIVgor strains were derived from a single lineage within the chimpanzee SIV (SIVcpz) radiation. Two fully sequenced gorilla viruses from southwestern Cameroon were very closely related to, and likely represent the source population of, HIV-1 group P. Most of the genome of a third SIVgor strain, from central Cameroon, was very closely related to HIV-1 group O, again pointing to gorillas as the immediate source. Functional analyses identified the cytidine deaminase APOBEC3G as a barrier for chimpanzee-to-gorilla, but not gorilla-to-human, virus transmission. These data indicate that HIV-1 group O, which spreads epidemically in west central Africa and is estimated to have infected around 100,000 people, originated by cross-species transmission from western lowland gorillas.

Concepts: Virus, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gorilla, Ape, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Simian immunodeficiency virus, Western Lowland Gorilla


Among factors affecting animal health, environmental influences may directly or indirectly impact host nutritional condition, fecundity, and their degree of parasitism. Our closest relatives, the great apes, are all endangered and particularly sensitive to infectious diseases. Both chimpanzees and western gorillas experience large seasonal variations in fruit availability but only western gorillas accordingly show large changes in their degree of frugivory. The aim of this study is to investigate and compare factors affecting health (through records of clinical signs, urine, and faecal samples) of habituated wild ape populations: a community (N = 46 individuals) of chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) in Kanyawara, Kibale National Park (Uganda), and a western gorilla (G. gorilla) group (N = 13) in Bai Hokou in the Dzanga-Ndoki National Park (Central African Republic). Ape health monitoring was carried out in the wet and dry seasons (chimpanzees: July-December 2006; gorillas: April-July 2008 and December 2008-February 2009). Compared to chimpanzees, western gorillas were shown to have marginally greater parasite diversity, higher prevalence and intensity of both parasite and urine infections, and lower occurrence of diarrhea and wounds. Parasite infections (prevalence and load), but not abnormal urine parameters, were significantly higher during the dry season of the study period for western gorillas, who thus appeared more affected by the large temporal changes in the environment in comparison to chimpanzees. Infant gorillas were the most susceptible among all the age/sex classes (of both apes) having much more intense infections and urine blood concentrations, again during the dry season. Long term studies are needed to confirm the influence of seasonal factors on health and parasitism of these great apes. However, this study suggest climate change and forest fragmentation leading to potentially larger seasonal fluctuations of the environment may affect patterns of ape parasitism and further exacerbate health impacts on great ape populations that live in highly seasonal habitats.

Concepts: Human, Primate, Hominidae, Chimpanzee, Gorilla, Ape, Apes, Western Gorilla


Humans' and apes' convergent (front-facing) orbits allow a large overlap of monocular visual fields but are considered to limit the lateral visual field extent. However, humans can greatly expand their lateral visual fields using eye motion. This study aimed to assess whether the human orbital morphology was unique compared with that of apes in avoiding lateral visual field obstruction. The orbits of 100 human skulls and 120 ape skulls (30 gibbons; 30 orangutans; 30 gorillas; 30 chimpanzees and bonobos) were analyzed. The orbital width/height ratio was calculated. Two orbital angles representing orbital convergence and rearward position of the orbital margin respectively were recorded using a protractor and laser levels. Humans have the largest orbital width/height ratio (1.19; p < 0.001). Humans and gibbons have orbits which are significantly less convergent than those of chimpanzees / bonobos, gorillas and orangutans (p < 0.001). These elements suggest a morphology favoring lateral vision in humans. More specifically, the human orbit has a uniquely rearward temporal orbital margin (107.1°; p < 0.001), suitable for avoiding visual obstruction and promoting lateral visual field expansion through eye motion. Such an orbital morphology may have evolved mainly as an adaptation to open-country habitat and bipedal locomotion.

Concepts: Human, Visual system, Primate, Hominidae, Chimpanzee, Gorilla, Ape, Hominid


Six extant species of non-human great apes are currently recognized: Sumatran and Bornean orangutans, eastern and western gorillas, and chimpanzees and bonobos [1]. However, large gaps remain in our knowledge of fine-scale variation in hominoid morphology, behavior, and genetics, and aspects of great ape taxonomy remain in flux. This is particularly true for orangutans (genus: Pongo), the only Asian great apes and phylogenetically our most distant relatives among extant hominids [1]. Designation of Bornean and Sumatran orangutans, P. pygmaeus (Linnaeus 1760) and P. abelii (Lesson 1827), as distinct species occurred in 2001 [1, 2]. Here, we show that an isolated population from Batang Toru, at the southernmost range limit of extant Sumatran orangutans south of Lake Toba, is distinct from other northern Sumatran and Bornean populations. By comparing cranio-mandibular and dental characters of an orangutan killed in a human-animal conflict to those of 33 adult male orangutans of a similar developmental stage, we found consistent differences between the Batang Toru individual and other extant Ponginae. Our analyses of 37 orangutan genomes provided a second line of evidence. Model-based approaches revealed that the deepest split in the evolutionary history of extant orangutans occurred ∼3.38 mya between the Batang Toru population and those to the north of Lake Toba, whereas both currently recognized species separated much later, about 674 kya. Our combined analyses support a new classification of orangutans into three extant species. The new species, Pongo tapanuliensis, encompasses the Batang Toru population, of which fewer than 800 individuals survive.

Concepts: Human, Hominidae, Chimpanzee, Gorilla, Ape, Apes, Orangutan, Bornean Orangutan