New exciting paper on orangutan call flexibility and the implications for the evolution of language

Take a look at a new paper in Scientific Reports led by Adriano Lameira about the amazing flexibility in orangutan vocal control.


Vocal fold control was critical to the evolution of spoken language, much as it today allows us to learn vowel systems. It has, however, never been demonstrated directly in a non-human primate, leading to the suggestion that it evolved in the human lineage after divergence from great apes. Here, we provide the first evidence for real-time, dynamic and interactive vocal fold control in a great ape during an imitation “do-as-I-do” game with a human demonstrator. Notably, the orang-utan subject skilfully produced “wookies” – an idiosyncratic vocalization exhibiting a unique spectral profile among the orang-utan vocal repertoire. The subject instantaneously matched human-produced wookies as they were randomly modulated in pitch, adjusting his voice frequency up or down when the human demonstrator did so, readily generating distinct low vs. high frequency sub-variants. These sub-variants were significantly different from spontaneous ones (not produced in matching trials). Results indicate a latent capacity for vocal fold exercise in a great ape (i) in real-time, (ii) up and down the frequency spectrum, (iii) across a register range beyond the species-repertoire and, (iv) in a co-operative turn-taking social setup. Such ancestral capacity likely provided the neuro-behavioural basis of the more fine-tuned vocal fold control that is a human hallmark.

Also see the youtube link


Chimpanzee survey photospheres

During the past weeks I have been in Tanzania to use drones to examine which factors determine the edge of the chimpanzee distribution. This work is funded by National Geographic and was conducted by a team from Liverpool John Moores University, ConservationDrones, and the Ugalla Primate Project. Here some links to photospheres of the trip:

A good way to view these as well is to download the Street View app on your smartphone and then search for Ugalla, Tanzania in the app. You will see the red dots on the map then for each of the photospheres and you can then view them in the app and also use Google Cardboard to view them for a different view.

Landscape Ecology and Primatology project (LEAP)

I have the pleasure to write that I am collaborating with Amanda Korstjens and Ross Hill from Bournemouth University in LEAP. This project brings together a team of landscape ecologists, primatologists, biogeographers, and specialists in remote sensing, carbon stock assessment and forest inventory. More information on the brand new website:

New paper on tree diversity in tropics

Ferry Slik led a large scale comparison to estimate tree diversity in the tropics and the paper is now out in PNAS.

The high species richness of tropical forests has long been recognized, yet there remains substantial uncertainty regarding the actual number of tropical tree species. Using a pantropical tree inventory database from closed canopy forests, consisting of 657,630 trees belonging to 11,371 species, we use a fitted value of Fisher’s alpha and an approximate pantropical stem total to estimate the minimum number of tropical forest tree species to fall between ∼40,000 and ∼53,000, i.e., at the high end of previous estimates. Contrary to common assumption, the Indo-Pacific region was found to be as species-rich as the Neotropics, with both regions having a minimum of ∼19,000–25,000 tree species. Continental Africa is relatively depauperate with a minimum of ∼4,500–6,000 tree species. Very few species are shared among the African, American, and the Indo-Pacific regions. We provide a methodological framework for estimating species richness in trees that may help refine species richness estimates of tree-dependent taxa.