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Food begging and sharing in wild bonobos (Pan paniscus): assessing relationship quality?

Abstract

Food transfers are often hypothesised to have played a role in the evolution of cooperation amongst humans. However, they also occur in non-human primates, though no consensus exists regarding their function(s). We document patterns of begging for food and success rates as well as associated factors that may influence them for wild bonobos at LuiKotale, Democratic Republic of Congo. Our data, collected over 1074 observation hours, focus on 260 begging events (outside mother-offspring dyads) of which 37 % were successful. We find no support for the “reciprocity hypothesis”—that food is exchanged for grooming and/or sexual benefits; and only weak support for the “sharing under pressure” hypothesis—that food is transferred as a result of harassment and pays off in terms of nutritional benefits for the beggar. Instead, our data support the “assessing-relationships” hypothesis, according to which beggars gain information about the status of their social relationship with the possessor of a food item. This seems to hold particularly true for the frequent, albeit unsuccessful begging events by young females (newly immigrated or hierarchically non-established) towards adult females, although it can be observed in other dyadic combinations independent of sex and age.

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Acknowledgments

The Institut Congolaise pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) kindly granted permission to conduct fieldwork in the Salonga National Park buffer zone. Villagers of Lompole allowed research to be carried out in their communal forest, and staff at LuiKotale field station provided assistance. BF and LG appreciate the support of Gottfried Hohmann, Benedikt Grothe, and Michael Tomasello. Heidi Douglas, Robyn Thiessen-Bock, and Martin Surbeck provided help in the field, Roger Mundry provided statistical support. Core-funding for fieldwork at LuiKotale came from the Max Planck Society, the Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF), the Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp (KMDA), and private donors. The collection of observational data adhered to animal welfare concerns as well as ICCN requirements and fulfilled the legal requirements of the host country, the République Démocratique du Congo.

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Correspondence to Barbara Fruth.

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Goldstone, L.G., Sommer, V., Nurmi, N. et al. Food begging and sharing in wild bonobos (Pan paniscus): assessing relationship quality?. Primates 57, 367–376 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10329-016-0522-6

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Keywords

  • Bonobo
  • Pan paniscus
  • Food sharing
  • Reciprocity
  • Sharing-under-pressure
  • Assessing relationships