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Male, female orangutans look to different mentors for sex-specific ecological knowledge

May 19 (UPI) — Young male and female orangutans look to different individuals for sex-specific ecological knowledge as they mature, according to new research.

Often, studies of sexual differences focuses on mating behavior and social organization, but field observations suggest male and female orangutans also demonstrate sex-specific foraging and dispersal patterns.


To better understand how these behaviors are acquired, researchers analyzed 15 years worth of data on dietary and social learning behaviors exhibited by 50 young orangutans living among two different Sumatran populations.

Scientists shared their findings Wednesday in the journal PLOS Biology.

“In our study we showed that immature orangutans show sex specific attentional preferences when observing role models other than their mothers,” corresponding author Caroline Schuppli said in a press release.

“Our results also provide evidence that these biases result in different learning outcomes and may thus be an important way for orangutans to learn sex-specific foraging patterns,” said Schuppli, a researcher at the Max-Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Germany.

Field researchers noted the frequency of “peering events” directed at other orangutans, and also tracked the amount of time young male and female orangutans spent in close proximity to others.

The data showed young females pay close attention to their mothers during their formative years, the “dependency period.” Males, on the other hand, look to other mentors.

Researchers also found the diets of young females overlapped with those diets of their mothers more closely than they overlapped for their brothers .

When young males and females turned their attention away from their mothers, males were more interested in transplants or immigrant orangutans, whereas females paid closer attention to neighbors.

Because males eventually leave their place of birth, males are more interested in acquiring ecological skills and knowledge applicable to areas where they are likely to disperse.

Females, on the other hand, must acquire locally relevant skills and knowledge.

“All in all, these results highlight the importance of fine-grained social inputs during development for orangutans — the least sociable of all ape species, and thus likely also for other primates,” Schuppli said.

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Science News – UPI.com

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