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Medicinal plant use by bonobos (Pan paniscus) in the Congo Basin, DRC and implication for conservation

Great ape selective use of plants for medicinal purpose is not only relevant implications for a better understanding of the evolution of human health, but also for the endangered species’ conservation. Climate change, habitat alteration, and human population growth invading the apes’ last strongholds of our planet, steadily increase the risk for zoonotic diseases. What does an ape need to stay healthy, is a question not only relevant for people in charge of conservation strategies in situ, but also for those keeping great apes in captive settings.
Bonobos of the Congo Basin in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) enjoy a healthy and almost intact forest and an exceptional diversity of food, which makes them an ideal reference population for the purpose of this study. While for many plant species macronutrient content has been investigated, little has been done concerning their micronutrients and secondary compounds.
This interdisciplinary study will focus on bonobo (1) food availability and choice; (2) use of medicinal plants; and (3) health. I hypothesize that a rich and diverse ecosystem allows ingestion of all compounds needed to maintain a healthy and viable bonobo population. In a meta-analysis integrating data on diversity and health from other great ape populations, I’ll investigate the connection between the loss of available alimentary diversity and health consequences.
Data will be collected on two habituated bonobo communities at the LuiKotale long term research site (DRC). Using focal and all occurrence sampling, all items ingested by bonobos will be recorded on a day-to-day basis. This will allow to determine differences concerning sex, age, and reproductive state of individuals observed.
Ultimately, results of this study will allow us to better understand the relation between nutrition, health and self-medication in a non-human great ape species. Ultimately, we will gain insight into the role of plant diversity for the set-up of a healthy great ape population, being of particular interest in light of the rapid degradation of suitable habitats due to climate change and anthropogenic impacts on tropical forests. The results can serve as a reference for other great apes populations in the wild, as well as support decision makers towards an improved health management in captive settings.
Datum:1 okt 2018  →  Heden