Bonobo Behavioral Ecology

LuiKotale Bonobo Project

Bonobos (Pan paniscus) exhibit a number of traits that are unusual not only for non-human primates but also for social mammals in general. Some of their striking peculiarities are of particular interest for research because they challenge biological paradigms. For example:

  • Cooperation and bonding among females, despite female exogamy and thus a low degree of relatedness
  • A lack of cooperation among males despite male philopatry
  • Dominance relations, with females being dominant over males or co-dominant with males, despite male biased sexual-dimorphism in body mass and canine size
  • Mating behaviour, with a broad spectrum of sexual interactions including social sex, and sex independent of fertile cycles
  • Aggression, with intra- and inter-group conflicts solved rather moderately.

Increasingly, research suggests ecological factors are the primary drivers of these behaviours.

Since 2002, we have collected data at our field site LuiKotale, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where we integrate behavioural observations with physiological, genetic, and ecological data in collaboration with partners within and outside the DRC.

Our research group focuses on bonobo behavioural ecology, taking into account individual life histories and social relationships - both within and across groups. By examining both ecological and social drivers of bonobo behaviour, we also uncover interspecific relationships that reveal how bonobos and other sympatric species - from ungulates, over other primates to felids- are embedded in a complex ecosystem of predators, prey, and competitors.

Ongoing projects

Bonobo Foraging Decisions 
On a daily basis, animals have to make decisions about what, when and where to eat in order to meet their nutritional needs. Kathrine Stewart is using nutritional geometry to evaluate the foraging decisions of individual adult bonobos in order to determine which strategies they adopt to obtain adequate minerals, with a focus on iodine. more
Medicinal Plant Use
Based on our current knowledge of bonobos’ food repertoire, there is a wide overlap with a number of plant species being used by local populations to prevent or treat diverse diseases. To date, little is known on wild bonobo disease, health maintenance and restoration. Mélodie Kreyer aims at shedding some light on cryptic feeding, sickness, and self-medicative behavior in LuiKotale bonobos. more
Development, Maturation and Life History
Apes are born in a highly altricial condition and it takes many years to grow into adulthood. Evidence suggests that environmental factors and dietary patterns determine the rate of maturation in different species. However, other patterns of development cannot be explained by habitat conditions alone. more
Intergroup Encounters
Intergroup encounters occur when two distinct social groups interact. The intensity of competition during these encounters can subsequently influence social relationships within and between groups, as well as group movement and fitness. Kathrine Stewart is interested in what promotes non-competitive (tolerant) encounters between groups because such tolerance is thought to be necessary for the formation of cooperative social systems like ours. more

In the Media


Wildlife photographer of the year more



July 22, 2021

Warming climate means scientists may have overcounted bonobos, study says more

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