Stephanie Bogart was awarded a Leakey Foundation Research Grant during our spring 2015 cycle for her project entitled “Savanna chimpanzee ecology at MARS (Mount Assirik Research Site).”
At Mount Assirik Research Site (MARS) in Senegal’s Niokolo Koba National Park, a new long-term field study on savanna chimpanzees has begun with the aid of the Leakey Foundation. This site is directed by Leakey grantee Stephanie Bogart (University of Southern California) and her co-PI, Stacy Lindshield (Iowa State University).
MARS will provide pertinent information on how chimpanzees adapt to a savanna environment. We know little about savanna chimpanzees compared to forested communities, and MARS will provide great insight on how they adapt to this different environment with a nine-month dry season and temperatures reaching over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Previous research from the only habituated savanna chimpanzee site (Fongoli) indicates that these chimpanzees have unique behaviors specific to coping with a stressful environment with limited permanent water resources. Thus, using savanna chimpanzees as a referential model provides discussion of how similar environments may have played a role in human evolution in the Plio-Pleistocene.
MARS is in a protected area with fewer disturbances from humans than Fongoli and will provide valuable data on predator presence and resource (food and water) availability. Numerous ecological methods are used to collect data, including data from six camera traps placed around the site. Finally, Stephanie and her team are initiating a habituation program with the Assirik chimpanzees to eventually provide comparative data on ecology and behavior. Establishing MARS will offer insights on behavioral ecology in a protected savanna habitat and future projects on gene flow, predator-prey interactions, and human impacts.