11/16/2016 Peter Durantine

New Research Suggests Male Chimpanzees Make Good Fathers

Male chimpanzees appear to play a significant role in their infants’ lives, including making sure they are protected, according to the latest primate research that challenges previous understanding by behavioral scientists about the promiscuous species.

One of the lead authors of “Chimpanzee Fathers Bias Their Behavior Toward Their Offspring” is Franklin & Marshall College Assistant Professor of Psychology Elizabeth Londsdorf. Her team's research is based on long-term behavioral data from Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania, where the data collection is supported by the Jane Goodall Institute.

The park and institute are partners with Franklin & Marshall College, the University of Minnesota, Duke University, the Lincoln Park Zoo, George Washington University, the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

“This is a new study that shows for the first time that, despite a promiscuous mating system, chimp dads seem to bias their behaviors toward their own kids,” said Lonsdorf. “Theoretically, they shouldn't even know which kid is theirs.” 

  • F&M Professor Lonsdorf at Gombe, where her data collection is supported by the Jane Goodall Institute. F&M Professor Lonsdorf at Gombe, where her data collection is supported by the Jane Goodall Institute. Image Credit: Elizabeth V. Lonsdorf

The paper was published earlier this month in the journal, Royal Society Open Science. The researchers used more than 25 years of data that contain observations of both adults and infants. Lonsdorf is co-director of the database on infant behavior along with Carson Murray, assistant professor of anthropology at George Washington.

“We found that fathers associated more with their own offspring than they did with non-kin infants, particularly early in life when infanticide risk is highest,” according to the authors. “Additionally, fathers and their infant offspring interacted [groomed and played] more than expected.”

The researchers consider the work important because the standard assumption in species without a close relationship between an adult make and female, known as a "pair-bond," is that fathers don’t provide paternal care, said Murray, the paper’s lead author.   

“We want to understand what patterns could have existed early in human evolution that help explain how human behavior evolved,” Murray said. “This research suggests that males may sometimes prioritize relationships with their offspring rather than with potential mates. For a species without pair-bonds where it was assumed fathers didn’t know which infants were their own, this is an important finding.”

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