Nest-Building by Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes verus) at Seringbara, Nimba Mountains: Antipredation, Thermoregulation, and Antivector Hypotheses
The construction of nests (or beds) for sleeping is a chimpanzee universal, yet little is known about the adaptive function of nest-building. We present an in-depth study of nest-building by unhabituated chimpanzees at the Seringbara study site in the Nimba Mountains, Guinea, West Africa. We recorded 1520 chimpanzee nests over 28 mo during three study periods between 2003 and 2008. We investigated where chimpanzees built their nests, both across the home range and in nest trees, and assessed how altitude and habitat type affected nest site selectivity. We examined whether or not chimpanzees were selective in nest tree choice regarding physical tree characteristics and tree species and assessed plant species preference for both tree- and ground-nesting. We tested three, nonmutually exclusive, hypotheses for the function of arboreal nest-building. We assessed whether selectivity for nest tree characteristics reflected an antipredator strategy, examined whether nesting patterns (both arboreal and terrestrial) and nesting height were influenced by variation in climatic conditions (temperature, humidity, wind), and measured mosquito densities at ground level and in trees at 10 m and related mosquito densities to nesting patterns. Chimpanzees preferred to nest above 1000 m and nested mainly in primary forest. They preferred relatively large trees with a low first branch, dense canopy, and small leaves and showed preference for particular tree species, which was stable across years, whereas plant choice for ground-nesting was largely based on plant availability. We found no support for the antipredation hypothesis, nor did mosquito densities explain arboreal nest-building. The thermoregulation hypothesis was supported, as both nesting patterns and nest-height variation across seasons reflected a humidity-avoidance strategy. Chimpanzees nested higher in trees and at higher altitudes in the wet season. In sum, chimpanzees were selective in their choice of nest sites, locations, and materials, and tree-nesting patterns at Seringbara were best explained by a thermoregulation strategy of humidity avoidance.