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Evidence of cave use by savanna chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes verus) at Fongoli, Senegal: implications for thermoregulatory behavior

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Much attention has been paid to how humans both adapt and acclimate to heat stress, primarily due to the relevance of these issues to hominid evolution in open Plio-Pleistocene environments. However, little is known about the responses of human’s closest living relative, the chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes), to similar environmental stressors. In southeastern Senegal, one of the hottest and driest habitats that chimpanzees (P. t. verus) live in today, apes rely on behavioral mechanisms of dealing with thermal stress. Chimpanzees’ use of caves was based primarily on indirect evidence (feeding traces, feces, and hairs) gathered from one cave from January to December 2004, but data from observational records collected from May 2001 through March 2006 supplement these data. The hypothesis that chimpanzees’ use of caves is a response to heat was tested by collecting data on temperatures within the largest cave and in different habitats used by chimpanzees, such as gallery forest and woodland. Results indicate that chimpanzees primarily use caves as shelters during the hottest times of year and that caves are consistently and significantly cooler than open habitats. Insight into the way that chimpanzees in Senegal cope with extreme temperatures may help us to better understand the behavior of early hominids in such an environment.

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Special thanks to Eaux et Forets in Senegal, National Geographic Scociety, National Science Foundation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Great Ape Conservation Grant, Primate Conservation Inc., and Iowa State University; M. Camara, M. Waller, M. Cook, P. Stirling, W. C. McGrew, S. Johnson-Fulton, C. Clement, A. Piel, S. Bogart, T. Martz, M. Howells, and A. Socha for field assistance; E. Videan for information on temperature loggers; T. C. LaDuke and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments; M. Gaspersic, F. Stewart, D. Kante and P. Bertolani for data collection.

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Correspondence to J. D. Pruetz.

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Pruetz, J.D. Evidence of cave use by savanna chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes verus) at Fongoli, Senegal: implications for thermoregulatory behavior. Primates 48, 316–319 (2007).

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