Doctoral Dissertation Research: Conflict Management and Dominance Style in Captive Bonobos
Carol Berman Principal Investigator
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Conflict management is the study of the ways in which animals cope with social conflict and/or reduce its costs. Forms of conflict management include compromise, sharing, tolerance, conflict prevention, reconciliation, and third-party post-conflict affiliation. A complete understanding of a species' conflict management patterns includes an understanding of its dominance style. The dominance style concept posits that species and relationships can be placed on a continuum ranging from despotic to egalitarian. As compared with despotic patterns, egalitarian conflict management patterns are expected to include higher rates of two-way aggression, reconciliation, consolation, and tolerance for subordinates by dominants in competitive contexts. Here, the researchers will examine patterns of conflict management and dominance style in captive bonobos (Pan paniscus). Bonobos are hypothesized to display strong egalitarian dominance style, based on the results of a few studies.<br/> A group of sixteen bonobos at the Columbus Zoo, Ohio, will be observed for this study. Specifically, three topics will be examined: the extent to which bonobos display (1) an egalitarian dominance style, (2) consolation, and (3) conflict prevention before and during predictable periods of tension caused by food provisioning.<br/> The intellectual merit of this project involves advancing our understanding of the nature and diversity of primate social systems, particularly aggressive and peacemaking patterns in non-human primates. The evolution of human aggressive patterns may be better understood with a more complete understanding of the aggressive patterns of our nearest primate relatives. Chimpanzees commonly serve as a living model for modern human aggressive patterns. Bonobos, however, represent an understudied, yet equally closely related species to humans that have evolved unique tension-regulating and peacemaking mechanisms. Behaviors associated with conflict management have rarely been studied in bonobos, particularly with the intent to place them into the broader framework of dominance style. This project will therefore provide a more complete conflict management profile than is presently available for bonobos and will shed additional light on the extent to which bonobos should be further integrated with chimpanzees in models of human evolution.<br/> The broader impacts of this study involve the enhancement of zoo research and the involvement of undergraduates in research. The results and implications of this project will be shared with the public (via publications in zoo newsletters, donations of publications to the zoos' <br/>libraries, and presentations to visiting groups, zookeepers and docents), and to the zoo staff, who will have the opportunity to use them to (1) incorporate them into their own management protocols, (2) promote conservation initiatives through funding and public education, and (3) obtain support for zoo operations and future zoo research. In addition, local undergraduate students will gain valuable experience by participating in data collection for this project. Specifically, this opportunity will allow students who are considering careers in animal behavior to participate in an advanced research project, to develop their curriculum vitae while earning university credits, and to make more informed choices about their futures.