Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) make nests for resting and sleeping, which is unusual for anthropoid primates but common to all great apes. Arboreal nesting has been linked to predation pressure, but few studies have tested the adaptive nature of this behavior. We collected data at two chimpanzee study sites in southeastern Senegal that differed in predator presence to test the hypothesis that elevated sleeping platforms are adaptations for predator defense. At Assirik in the Pare National du Niokolo-Koba, chimpanzees face four species of large carnivore, whereas at Fongoli, outside national park boundaries, humans have exterminated almost all natural predators. We quantified the availability of vegetation at the two sites to test the alternative hypothesis that differences in nesting reflect differences in habitat structure. We also examined possible sex differences in nesting behavior, community demographic differences, seasonality and nest age differences as variables also potentially affecting nest characteristics and nesting behavior between the two sites. Chimpanzees at Fongoli nested at lower heights and farther apart than did chimpanzees at Assirik and sometimes made nests on the ground. The absence of predators outside of the national park may account for the differences in nest characteristics at the two sites, given the similarities in habitat structure between Fongoli and Assirik. However, Fongoli chimpanzees regularly build arboreal nests for sleeping, even under minimal predation pressure, and this requires explanation.
- Great apes