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PLoS One. 2014 Apr 16;9(4):e95361. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0095361. eCollection 2014.

Chimpanzees preferentially select sleeping platform construction tree species with biomechanical properties that yield stable, firm, but compliant nests.

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Department of Anthropology, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Las Vegas, Nevada, United States of America.
Department of Anthropology, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, United States of America.

Erratum in

  • PLoS One. 2014;9(7):e104024.


The daily construction of a sleeping platform or "nest" is a universal behavior among large-bodied hominoids. Among chimpanzees, most populations consistently select particular tree species for nesting, yet the principles that guide species preferences are poorly understood. At Semliki, Cynometra alexandri constitutes only 9.6% of all trees in the gallery forest in which the study populations ranges, but it was selected for 73.6% of the 1,844 chimpanzee night beds we sampled. To determine whether physical properties influence nesting site selection, we measured the physical characteristics of seven common tree species at the Toro-Semliki Wildlife Reserve, Uganda. We determined stiffness and bending strength for a sample of 326 branches from the seven most commonly used tree species. We selected test-branches with diameters typically used for nest construction. We measured internode distance, calculated mean leaf surface area (cm2) and assigned a tree architecture category to each of the seven species. C. alexandri fell at the extreme of the sample for all four variables and shared a tree architecture with only one other of the most commonly selected species. C. alexandri was the stiffest and had the greatest bending strength; it had the smallest internode distance and the smallest leaf surface area. C. alexandri and the second most commonly selected species, Cola gigantea, share a 'Model of Koriba' tree architecture. We conclude that chimpanzees are aware of the structural properties of C. alexandri branches and choose it because its properties afford chimpanzees sleeping platforms that are firm, stable and resilient.

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