Introducing Karline Janmaat from the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology. She was awarded a Leakey Foundation research grant in our spring 2015 cycle for her project entitled “The ecological intelligence of human rainforest foragers.”
Karline Janmaat. Photo credit: Bill Loubelo
Many primates have developed mental abilities that help them keep track of when and where energy-rich foods such as ripe fruits become available. This may help them to find such food more efficiently and to maintain large brains when times are lean. In this study, I will investigate 1) the extent with which humans use their spatio-temporal memory and planning abilities in the same forest environment that most primates live, 2) humans’ species and plant-specific knowledge of the temporal distribution of tropical rainforest food and 3) how this knowledge corresponds to both that of our closest relative, the chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes), that lives in similar forests feeding on the same plant food and humans living in different environments where food can be more easily spotted by sight.
Babendjele Yaka women at a irvingia nut tree. Photo credit: Haneul Jang
The second part of my studies will focus on the questions whether, when and with whom human rainforest foragers share knowledge about food locations and whether information transfer (by language or behavioral reading) increases food-finding efficiency.
To answer these questions we will record the foraging behavior, travel routes and food locations of five Babendjele Yaka women and their families living in the rainforest of the northwestern Congo basin bordering the Motaba river. Each woman will be observed for 28 consecutive days within two subsequent years. In addition to our observational work on the women, we will assess the value of alternative foraging choices and conduct a variety of non-invasive food finding experiments.
My team imcludes my Korean PhD student Haneul Jang and a Congolese PhD student Bill Loubelo. The results of our collaboration are expected to produce novel insights in to the origins of human intelligence.
PhD student Haneul Jang (L) and Kuona eating fruit. Photo credit: Karline Janmaat Bill Loubelo (center with binoculars) recording food tree density and distribution. Photo credit: Karline Janmaat Botele fishing with burning firewood in her hand. Photo credit: Karline Janmaat Karline Janmaat in Babendjele camp. Photo credit: Haneul Jang