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The detailed genetic study of Taï chimpanzees, now in its third generation, has made important contributions on several levels. As a pioneering instance of the use of non-invasive sources of DNA for elucidation of individually specific genetic profiles, results from Taï have illustrated the potential and the pitfalls of using challenging genetic sample materials. Paternity distribution assessment has elucidated the role of social rank in reproductive competition among male chimpanzees. Analysis of average levels of dyadic relatedness challenged the long-standing assumption of high relatedness levels among males, leading to a more nuanced understanding of the impact of kinship on cooperation within as well as competition between groups. Finally, analyses of genetic differentiation among groups at Taï have contributed to understanding the relationship between genetic and cultural variation and the impact of differentiation on cooperation and competition. Future insights on how the population has been shaped by selective processes such as culture, ecology or disease will come from work on adaptive variation of immune system genes and genome-scale sequence variation.
The Taï Chimpanzee Project (Taï National Park, Cote D'Ivoire) has yielded unprecedented insights into the nature of cooperation, cognition, and culture in our closest living relatives. Founded in 1979 by Christophe and Hedwige Boesch, the project has entered its 40th year of continuous research. Alongside other famous long-term chimpanzee study sites at Gombe and Mahale in East Africa, the tireless work of the team at Taï has contributed to the fields of behavioural ecology and anthropology, as well as improving public awareness of the urgent need to protect this already endangered species. Encompassing important research topics including chimpanzee ecology, reproductive behaviour, tool use, culture, communication, cognition and conservation, this book provides an engaging account of how Taï chimpanzees are adapted to African jungle life and how they have developed unique forms of cooperation with less violence, regular adoptions and complex cultural differences between groups.
In the past few decades, developments in molecular biology and genetics have contributed a new dimension to the study of evolutionary systematics and socioecology. This has led to the creation of several new fields of research, including ‘molecular systematics’ and ‘molecular ecology.’ The study of molecular systematics applies methods of genetic analysis to such problems as: examining taxonomic relationships on a molecular level; identifying molecular phylogenies among taxa; and estimating the time of these taxa's most recent common ancestor. Molecular data can also be compared with morphological and behavioral data to gain a more comprehensive understanding of evolutionary genetics and phylogenetic relationships. The relatively new field of molecular ecology utilizes methods of DNA analysis to address questions about behavioral ecology, evolution, and conservation through direct measures of relatedness and genetic variability. Genetic analysis is now commonly used to describe social structure and dispersal patterns, to verify mating systems, and to identify and census individuals in a population (Sunnucks 2000). Similarly, behavioral ecologists can better understand aspects of social dynamics, such as the evolution of altruism through kin selection (Hamilton 1964), by combining direct observational data from the field with DNA analysis of relatedness in the laboratory.
The earliest molecular studies of chimpanzees sought to understand the degree of similarity and difference among humans and apes. Goodman (1962) examined the immunological properties of the albumin protein in apes and found that chimpanzees, gorillas, and humans showed a strong degree of similarity to the exclusion of orangutans and gibbons.
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