IBED and the Bili Apes

Contact: Prof.dr. Steph Menken
Telephone number: +31 20 525 6297
E-mail menken@science.uva.nl

Early 2004 through its director (prof.dr. Jan Sevink) IBED (Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystems Dynamics, University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands) established contacts with the Wasmoeth Wildlife Foundation and became involved in its activities in the Bili area and the protection of its wild life including apes. Though this involvement pertains particularly to the genetics and ecology of the chimps in the area, the scope of IBED’s research in the Bili area is wider, reflecting the broad scientific mission of IBED and complexity of wild life conservation. Currently, the following topics can be distinguished:

  1. Genetics, ecology and behaviour of the chimps

    From mid 2004 onwards Thurston Cleveland Hicks started a 4-years PhD study at the University of Amsterdam under supervision of prof.dr. Steph Menken and dr Hans Breeuwer (evolutionary biology) and prof.dr. Jan van Hooff (primatologist/ethologist, formerly at University of Utrecht). Cleve Hicks holds a MSc in Experimental Psychology from the Central Washington University, USA. He worked on “Chimpanzee Tool Use in the Ngotto Forest, Central African Republic”. Based on this expertise and background he was accepted by the University of Amsterdam as PhD-student on a project entitled ‘Genetics, ecology and behaviour of the Bili chimps’.

    IBED and its associated Zoological Museum Amsterdam have a long standing tradition in evolutionary and taxonomic animal studies, including primates (e.g. Southeast Asian Orang-Utangs). It furthermore has up-to-date facilities and expertise in molecular biological (DNA) studies. It is the intention to extensively sample the various chimp groups in the Bili area in order to assess both their phylogenetic relationships and evolutionary status.

    Jan van Hooff is an internationally recognized expert in primate ethology and evolution of behaviour. He recently retired from his chair in Ethology at the University of Utrecht, the Netherlands, but still is highly active in research on primate behaviour.

    The first phase of Hick’s PhD-study comprises an extended, but preliminary field study in the Bili area, focusing on:
    * basic observations on behaviour and occurrence of chimps, including such aspects as group composition, feeding habits, habitat use, etc. At this moment (October 2004) Cleve Hicks already holds extensive information on these aspects, based on systematic transect observations and frequent encounters (see appendix).
    * collection of materials (hair, excrements, etc.) that allow for genetic fingerprinting studies of the individuals concerned. A first set of excrement samples collected by Steve Hicks is currently being analysed.

    Research by Cleve Hicks encompasses an in-depth study of the genetics, ecology and behaviour of the chimps and a general characterization of the Bili region (vegetation, climate, etc.) in order to assess their habitat use and preferences. The exact contents, however, will depend on the outcome of the preliminary research. Facilities on site and logistics are provided by Mr. Karl Ammann and the Wasmoeth Wildlife Foundation and research is being carried out in consultation with Mr. Karl Ammann and Mr. Hans Wasmoeth.

  2. The (paleo)environment and Quaternary evolution of the Bili region

    Main topics in primate studies are the reconstruction of the phylogenetics and phylogeography of the taxa involved, the dating of speciation events and identification of factors that drove differentiation and speciation. As to the latter, focus is generally on changes in vegetation and habitat that is related to climate changes at the scale of the Quaternary and Late Pliocene.

    Within IBED internationally recognized expertise exists in paleo-ecological studies of tropical areas, notably Latin-America and Africa. Major specialists are prof.dr. Henry Hooghiemstra (Quaternary of Latin-America and Africa) and dr. Bas van Geel (Holocene climatic changes). Studies of suited sediment sequences will be executed to obtain detailed reconstructions of former habitats and fluctuations in these and results will be linked to differentiation/speciation events. This will be achieved through regular MSc research projects and most probably in cooperation with sister groups in paleo-ecology from the United Kingdom active in central Africa, closely collaborating with Hooghiemstra’s group.

    For proper interpretation of paleo-records (pollen data mostly) insight into the current vegetation is needed, which will be acquired through systematic vegetation studies and surveys using a.o. remote sensing/satellite images (see also 3).

  3. Vegetation studies and non-timber forest products

    Conservation of the existing wild life including the chimps requires that alternative sources of income for the local population can be found and developed, NTFP being such potential source. To that purpose, vegetation studies will be carried out and types will be characterized for their potential non-timber forest products (NTFP). Identification of these NTFP will be based on a participative approach. IBED will search for funding of such project by submitting a proposal to its national science foundation (WOTRO), supported by the Wasmoeth Wildlife Foundation.