Visually assessed body condition shows high heritability in a pedigreed great ape population
Journal Contribution - Journal Article
Body condition, a measure for relative fat mass, is associated with primate health, fitness, and overall welfare. Body condition is often influenced by dietary factors, age, and/or sex, but several body condition measures (body weight, weight-to-height ratios, and so on) also show high heritability across primate species, indicating a role of genetic effects. Although different measures for body condition exist, many require direct handling of animals, which is invasive, time-consuming, and expensive, making them impractical in wild and captive settings. Therefore, noninvasive visual body condition score (BCS) systems were developed for various animal species, including macaques and chimpanzees, to visually assess relative fat mass. Here we evaluate the utility of a visual BCS system in bonobos by assessing (1) inter-rater reliability, (2) links with body mass, a traditional hands-on measure of condition, and (3) the factors driving individual variation in BCS. We adapted the chimpanzee BCS system to rate 76 bonobos in 11 European zoos (92% of the adult population). Inter-rater reliability was high (s* = 0.948), BCSs were positively associated with body mass (β = 0.075) and not predicted by diet, sex, or age, nor were they associated with a higher abundance of obesity-related diseases. Instead, BCSs showed high levels of heritability (h 2 = 0.637), indicating that a majority of body condition variation in bonobos is attributable to genetic similarity of the individuals. This is in line with reported h 2 -values for traditional body condition measures in primates and provides support for the reliability of visual BCS systems in great apes. The results of this study emphasize an often unanticipated role of genetics in determining primate body fat and health that has implications for the management of captive primates. Application of this tool in wild populations would aid to unravel environmental from genetic drivers of body condition variation in primates.