Savanna chimpanzees adjust sleeping nest architecture in response to local weather conditions
Great ape nests are hypothesized to aid safe, secure sleep via providing thermoregulation or protection from predators and vectors. We aimed to describe and investigate variation in chimpanzee nest architecture across two populations in response to local weather conditions.
We experimentally tested whether nests provide insulation by measuring heat loss within and outside nests, and took detailed measurements of the number, size, and type of materials used in nest building across two dry-habitat research sites (Fongoli, Senegal, and Issa, Tanzania). We tested application of principal components analysis (PCA) to extract composite quantitative measures of the key components of shape and architecture, before testing how PCs vary across populations with overnight weather conditions that reflect hypothesized thermoregulatory function.
Heat loss is greater and occurs faster outside of nests. PCA allowed meaningful comparison of nests within and between sites. Nest variation at both sites revealed chimpanzees built thicker nests in cooler conditions and used more broken branches and support in moister conditions. Chimpanzees in Fongoli used more lining and mattress material in colder conditions, whilst in Issa nest depth and support branch size were larger in windier conditions.
Shape and architectural measures reflected insulation and stability of nest structure. Chimpanzees in Fongoli and Issa may achieve the same functional goals by adjusting nest shape and architecture in different ways. These results suggest that wild chimpanzees show flexible building techniques in response to local, overnight weather conditions in making an insulating and stable, supportive platform for sleep.