Jennifer Gier



My master thesis is supervised by Professor Klaus Zuberbühler and Postdoctoral researcher Pawel Fedurek. I will study the nesting behaviour in wild chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) of the Sonso community at the Budongo Conservation Field Station in Uganda. The collection of data will take place during a six month-period between August 2016 and January 2017.

Nesting behaviour, which is building sleeping nests in trees by folding branches or leaves, is shared by all great apes species. Chimpanzees fabricate their own nests every night and sometimes during the day. Nesting is often in groups. Since little is known about how chimpanzee nesting is initiated, carried out and coordinated, further studies are needed to better understand the nature of this behaviour. 

New insights on the topic can be useful for wider application fields apart from the scientific perspective. There is, for example some potential application for conservation purposes such as the protection of favourite trees used by wild chimpanzees for nesting. Indeed, in the Budongo forest, poachers come at night to cut trees, which may have an impact on the nesting behaviour  if trees, that are preferably used by chimpanzees, are logged. Data from my proposed study will be compared with previous data from Budongo to explore how logging affects chimpanzees' choices regarding nesting trees, which is one of the purposes of my study.

Another aim of the study is to answer classical ecological questions, such as how chimpanzees decide on the place or time they nest. However the most important aspect of my work will be to investigate how chimpanzees communicate with each other during nesting and how they coordinate their nesting decisions, which are topics virtually unexplored by the literature. One of the questions, for example, is what communication signals are used to coordinate nesting between several individuals?

To this point, there have been no overnight studies on nesting behaviour of chimpanzee in the wild, which is one of the aims of my project. There were some studies on night nesting in captivity showing that the sleeping behaviour is dynamic and complex with frequent awakenings in captive chimpanzees. However, no studies have been done yet in the field and I am interested to do overnight observations of nest parties. There are already some observations of nesting chimpanzees during the days, but none on overnight nesting.