Published: 12 March 2020 at 16:00
New research provides important clues for the evolution of human behaviour
Scientists have discovered that gorillas really are territorial – and their behaviour is very similar to our own.
Published in the journal Scientific Reports, the research shows for the first time that groups of gorillas recognise “ownership” of specific regions. They are also more likely to avoid contact with other groups the closer they are to the centre of their neighbours’ home range, for fear of conflict.
The study, which was carried out by academics from the University of Cambridge, Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), the University of Barcelona, SPAC Scientific Field Station Network, and the University of Vienna, involved monitoring the movements of groups of western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla).
Western lowland gorillas are difficult to track on foot because they live in dense forests. Instead, the scientists followed eight groups of gorillas using a network of cameras placed at 36 feeding “hotspots” across a 60km2 area of the Odzala-Kokoua National Park in the Republic of Congo.
It was previously thought that gorillas were non-territorial, due to the overlap of home ranges and their tolerance of other groups. This is markedly different to chimpanzees, which display extreme territorial-based violence.
However, this new research discovered that gorillas display more nuanced behaviours, and their movements are strongly influenced by the location of their neighbours – they are less likely to feed at a site visited by another group that day – and the distance from the centre of their neighbours’ home range.
Lead author Dr Robin Morrison, who carried out the study during her PhD at the University of Cambridge, said:
Co-author Dr Jacob Dunn, Reader in Evolutionary Biology at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), said:
Photo courtesy of Germán Illera for SPAC Scientific Field Station Network, Ggmb.