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Chimpanzees plan ahead to get the best breakfast: Study

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Chimpanzees understand too how important the first meal of the day is so they plan for it beforehand, ensuring they get the breakfast they want.

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany took to the rainforests of West Africa to study chimpanzee behavior regarding breakfast. As not all fruits are equally desired, chimps made it a point to arrive earlier at choice sites, their study revealed.

Karline Janmaat and colleagues recorded the activities of five adult female chimps in Côte d'Ivoire's Tai National Park. For 275 whole days, they took note of where their chimpanzee subjects spent the night in relation to where and when they acquired food.

Based on their research, they found out that chimps left their nests earlier (often when the forest is still dark before sunrise) when they were heading for breakfast sites where choice fruits are found, most especially when these sites are far away.

Janmaat recounts how thrilling it was to witness female chimps and their young carefully making their way through the forest steeped in darkness, heading for breakfast sites. A fifth of the mornings, they left before the sun rose and the rest of the forest woke. It was exciting for the researchers to realize that their analyses indicated the females were leaving earlier for figs located farther away. Likely the chimps were making up for travel time, ensuring they arrive where the figs are before competitors do.

Aside from leaving early, the female chimps also slept in nests located in the direction of breakfast sites for the next day, when again choice fruits are targeted.

By analyzing departure times and nest positions in relation to fruit location and type, researchers found evidence that chimpanzees plan for next day's breakfast flexibly, determining what time they should leave and where to sleep the night before depending on the fruit they want to eat.

Janmaat's work with her colleagues reveals that a cognitive mechanism exists for large-brained primates like chimps to take advantage of, buffering the effects of seasonal food shortage and inter-species competition.

"Long-term, detailed information from the field can reveal the value of high levels of cognition and behavioral flexibility for efficiently obtaining critical food resources in complex environments. Being able to reveal how environmental complexity can shape cognitive based behavior is especially exciting," said co-author Leo Polansky.

The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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