Concept: Old World monkey
Several groups have developed brain-machine-interfaces (BMIs) that allow primates to use cortical activity to control artificial limbs. Yet, it remains unknown whether cortical ensembles could represent the kinematics of whole-body navigation and be used to operate a BMI that moves a wheelchair continuously in space. Here we show that rhesus monkeys can learn to navigate a robotic wheelchair, using their cortical activity as the main control signal. Two monkeys were chronically implanted with multichannel microelectrode arrays that allowed wireless recordings from ensembles of premotor and sensorimotor cortical neurons. Initially, while monkeys remained seated in the robotic wheelchair, passive navigation was employed to train a linear decoder to extract 2D wheelchair kinematics from cortical activity. Next, monkeys employed the wireless BMI to translate their cortical activity into the robotic wheelchair’s translational and rotational velocities. Over time, monkeys improved their ability to navigate the wheelchair toward the location of a grape reward. The navigation was enacted by populations of cortical neurons tuned to whole-body displacement. During practice with the apparatus, we also noticed the presence of a cortical representation of the distance to reward location. These results demonstrate that intracranial BMIs could restore whole-body mobility to severely paralyzed patients in the future.
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.
It was recently shown that rhythmic entrainment, long considered a human-specific mechanism, can be demonstrated in a selected group of bird species, and, somewhat surprisingly, not in more closely related species such as nonhuman primates. This observation supports the vocal learning hypothesis that suggests rhythmic entrainment to be a by-product of the vocal learning mechanisms that are shared by several bird and mammal species, including humans, but that are only weakly developed, or missing entirely, in nonhuman primates. To test this hypothesis we measured auditory event-related potentials (ERPs) in two rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta), probing a well-documented component in humans, the mismatch negativity (MMN) to study rhythmic expectation. We demonstrate for the first time in rhesus monkeys that, in response to infrequent deviants in pitch that were presented in a continuous sound stream using an oddball paradigm, a comparable ERP component can be detected with negative deflections in early latencies (Experiment 1). Subsequently we tested whether rhesus monkeys can detect gaps (omissions at random positions in the sound stream; Experiment 2) and, using more complex stimuli, also the beat (omissions at the first position of a musical unit, i.e. the ‘downbeat’; Experiment 3). In contrast to what has been shown in human adults and newborns (using identical stimuli and experimental paradigm), the results suggest that rhesus monkeys are not able to detect the beat in music. These findings are in support of the hypothesis that beat induction (the cognitive mechanism that supports the perception of a regular pulse from a varying rhythm) is species-specific and absent in nonhuman primates. In addition, the findings support the auditory timing dissociation hypothesis, with rhesus monkeys being sensitive to rhythmic grouping (detecting the start of a rhythmic group), but not to the induced beat (detecting a regularity from a varying rhythm).
Strong evidence indicates that non-human primates possess a numerical representation system, but the inherent nature of that system is still debated. Two cognitive mechanisms have been proposed to account for non-human primate numerical performance: (1) a discrete object-file system limited to quantities <4, and (2) an analog system which represents quantities comparatively but is limited by the ratio between two quantities. To test the underlying nature of non-human primate quantification, we asked eight experiment-naive olive baboons (Papio anubis) to discriminate between number pairs containing small (<4), large (>4), or span (small vs. large) numbers of food items presented simultaneously or sequentially. The prediction from the object-file hypothesis is that baboons will only accurately choose the larger quantity in small pairs, but not large or span pairs. Conversely, the analog system predicts that baboons will be successful with all numbers, and that success will be dependent on numerical ratio. We found that baboons successfully discriminated all pair types at above chance levels. In addition, performance significantly correlated with the ratio between the numerical values. Although performance was better for simultaneous trials than sequential trials, evidence favoring analog numerical representation emerged from both conditions, and was present even in the first exposure to number pairs. Together, these data favor the interpretation that a single, coherent analog representation system underlies spontaneous quantitative abilities in primates.
Most living primates exhibit a daytime or nighttime activity pattern. Strict diurnality is thought to be the rule among anthropoids except for owl monkeys. Here we report the diel activity pattern of an Asian colobine, the Guizhou snub-nosed monkey Rhinopithecus brelichi, based on a methodology that relied on using 24-h continuously operating camera traps. We conducted the study in Fanjingshan National Nature Reserve in Guizhou, China from March 22 to May 19 and from June 17 to October 14, 2011. After standardizing all time elements to a meridian-based time according to the geographic coordinates of the study site, we showed unequivocally that the monkeys, though predominantly diurnal, exhibited activity beyond daylight hours throughout the study. Specifically, their activity at night and during twilight periods suggests a complex interplay of behavioral adaptations, among others, to living in a temperate environment where day length and food resources fluctuate substantially across seasons. We contend that, under prevailing ecological conditions, so-called strictly diurnal primates may adjust their activity schedule opportunistically in order to increase energy intake. We also discuss the advantages of using camera traps in primate studies, and how the standardized use of meridian-based time by researchers would benefit comparisons of diel activity patterns among primates.
Pliocene uplifting of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau (QTP) and Quaternary glaciation may have impacted the Asian biota more than any other events. Little is documented with respect to how the geological and climatological events influenced speciation as well as spatial and genetic structuring, especially in vertebrate endotherms. Macaca mulatta is the most widely distributed non-human primate. It may be the most suitable model to test hypotheses regarding the genetic consequences of orogenesis on an endotherm.
Keeping track of social interactions among conspecifics is a driving force for the evolution of social cognition. How social cognition, such as social knowledge, ties in with a species' social organization is, however, largely unexplored. We investigated the social knowledge of wild Guinea baboons (Papio papio) ranging in Senegal, a species that lives in a fluid multilevel society with overlapping habitat use. Using playback experiments, we tested how adult males differentiate between subjects from their own vs. a neighboring or a stranger social unit (“gang”) and assessed ranging patterns with Global Positioning System (GPS) data. While territorial species usually differentiate between group and nongroup members and often respond more strongly to strangers than neighbors (the “dear enemy” effect), subjects in this highly tolerant species should largely ignore other unit members and mainly attend to subjects from their own unit. Males responded strongly after playback of calls recorded from members of their own gang, while they attended only briefly to neighbor or stranger calls. Apparently, males benefit from monitoring the social maneuvers in their own social unit, while it remains to be resolved whether they are unmotivated or unable to keep track of the identities and actions of individuals outside their own gang. The study highlights how the allocation of social attention is tuned to the specifics of a species' social organization, while a complex social organization does not necessarily translate into the need for more elaborate social knowledge.
Primate loud calls have the potential to encode information about the identity, arousal, age, or physical condition of the caller, even at long distances. In this study, we conducted an analysis of the acoustic features of the loud calls produced by a species of Asian colobine monkey (simakobu, Simias concolor). Adult male simakobu produce loud calls spontaneously and in response to loud sounds and other loud calls, which are audible more than 500 m. Individual differences in calling rates and durations exist, but it is unknown what these differences signal and which other acoustic features vary among individuals. We aimed to describe the structure and usage of calls and to examine acoustic features that vary within and among individuals. We determined the context of 318 loud calls and analyzed 170 loud calls recorded from 10 adult males at an undisturbed site, Pungut, Siberut Island, Indonesia. Most calls (53%) followed the loud call of another male, 31% were spontaneous, and the remaining 16% followed a loud environmental disturbance. The fundamental frequency (F0) decreased while inter-unit intervals (IUI) increased over the course of loud call bouts, possibly indicating caller fatigue. Discriminant function analysis indicated that calls were not well discriminated by context, but spontaneous calls had higher peak frequencies, suggesting a higher level of arousal. Individual calls were distinct and individuals were mainly discriminated by IUI, call duration, and F0. Loud calls of older males had shorter IUI and lower F0, while middle-aged males had the highest peak frequencies. Overall, we found that calls were individually distinct and may provide information about the age, stamina, and arousal of the calling male, and could thus be a way for males and females to assess competitors and mates from long distances.
Language is a distinguishing characteristic of our species, and the course of its evolution is one of the hardest problems in science. It has long been generally considered that human speech requires a low larynx, and that the high larynx of nonhuman primates should preclude their producing the vowel systems universally found in human language. Examining the vocalizations through acoustic analyses, tongue anatomy, and modeling of acoustic potential, we found that baboons (Papio papio) produce sounds sharing the F1/F2 formant structure of the human [ɨ æ ɑ ɔ u] vowels, and that similarly with humans those vocalic qualities are organized as a system on two acoustic-anatomic axes. This confirms that hominoids can produce contrasting vowel qualities despite a high larynx. It suggests that spoken languages evolved from ancient articulatory skills already present in our last common ancestor with Cercopithecoidea, about 25 MYA.
Primates (including humans) scratch when stressed. So far, such scratching has been seen as a by-product of physiological processes associated with stress, and attributed proximate, regulatory function. However, it is possible that others could use this relationship between scratching and stress as an indication of the animal’s stress state, and thus scratching could potentially have social function. As a test of this theory, we measured the production of, and social responses to scratching in a group of free-ranging rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta). Firstly, we found that the likelihood of scratching was greater around periods of heightened social stress, such as being in proximity to high-ranking individuals, or non-friends. Secondly, when macaques scratched, subsequent interactions were less likely to be aggressive and more likely to be affiliative. Potential attackers may avoid attacking stressed individuals as stressed individuals could behave unpredictably or be weakened by their state of stress (rendering aggression risky and/or unnecessary). Observable stress behaviour could therefore have additional adaptive value by reducing the potential for escalated aggression, benefiting both senders and receivers by facilitating social cohesion. This basic ability to recognise stress in others could also be an important component in the evolution of social cognition such as empathy.