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Am J Phys Anthropol. 2011 Oct;146(2):313-8. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.21580. Epub 2011 Aug 11.

Brief communication: why sleep in a nest? Empirical testing of the function of simple shelters made by wild chimpanzees.

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Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies, Department of Biological Anthropology, University of Cambridge, Henry Wellcome Building, Fitzwilliam Street, CB2 1QH, UK.


All great apes build nightly a structure ("nest" or "bed") that is assumed to function primarily as a sleeping-platform. However, several other nest function hypotheses have been proposed: antipredation, antipathogen, and thermoregulation. I tested these simple shelter functions of chimpanzee nests in an experiment for which I was the subject in Fongoli, Senegal. I slept 11 nights in chimpanzee nests and on the bare ground to test for differences in sleep quality, potential exposure to disease through bites from possible vectors, and insulation. No difference was found in the total amount of sleep nor in sleep quality; however, sleep was more disturbed on the ground. Differences in sleep disturbance between arboreal and ground conditions seemed primarily due to causes of anxiety and alertness, e.g., vocalizations of terrestrial mammals. Arboreal nest-sleeping seems to reduce risk of bites from possible disease vectors and provide insulation in cold conditions. This preliminary, but direct, test of chimpanzee nest function has implications for the evolutionary transition from limb-roosting to nest-reclining sleep in the hominoids, and from tree-to-ground sleep in the genus Homo.

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