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Primates. 2012 Oct;53(4):357-64. doi: 10.1007/s10329-012-0310-x. Epub 2012 May 4.

The chimpanzee nest quantified: morphology and ecology of arboreal sleeping platforms within the dry habitat site of Toro-Semliki Wildlife Reserve, Uganda.

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Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA.


The nightly construction of a sleeping platform (SP) or "nest" is widely regarded as a universal behavior among great apes, yet SP structural morphology has been incompletely quantified to date. This is in part due to the inherent difficulties of gathering empirical data on arboreally sited SPs. I gathered quantitative structural data on SPs (n = 65) at the Toro-Semliki Wildlife Reserve from May to June 2008 and from August 2010 to January 2011. I measured SP length (semi-major axis length), width (semi-minor axis length), radii (length from the surface center to the rim edge 45° from the axis), depth (width of the concavity from the surface center to the parallel rim), and thickness (ventral center to the dorsal underside of the SP). SP complexity was defined with a scored index. SP complexity was found to be correlated with SP circumference, surface area, mass, proportion of soft leafy material to hard woody material, number of frame support branches used in its construction, and other measures that are argued to index "comfort." In addition, the height of the tree canopy above the SP was negatively correlated with SP complexity. Greater complexity (and therefore stability) is argued to maintain SP integrity, stability and restraint in the face of greater wind speeds, thereby reducing the probability of falls. Given the observation that males site SPs lower than females (Fruth and Hohmann, Ethology 94:113-126, 1994; Brownlow et al., Am J Primatol 55:49-55, 2001), and that SP diameters were greater for SPs sited low in the canopy at Semliki, it is inferred that more massive males benefit from lower climbing expenses and greater stability. These data support Baldwin and colleagues' (Primates 22:474-486, 1981) hypothesis that the principal advantage of SPs over open-branch sleeping sites is the greater stability required by large-bodied great apes.

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