News Round-Up

Chimpanzees in volatile habitats evolved to behave more flexibly – it could help them weather climate change


One of the reasons humans are so resilient is our ability to mould our behaviour to ever changing situations. It wasn’t so long ago that many of us hugged when we met. In the middle of a pandemic, in which close contact between people can help spread a deadly virus, we now stand (often awkwardly) two meters apart. This is just one example of our ability to adapt to changing circumstances that can otherwise be harmful. This capacity to cope and respond flexibly to unpredictable changes in our environment has shaped our evolution.

In the past, radically shifting climates caused forests to expand and contract over time, and our early human ancestors had to cope with changes in the amount and types of food and shelter that were available. As forests gradually shrank a couple of million years ago, they were replaced by open habitats with fewer trees – mosaics of savanna and woodland. Early humans were able to adapt to these changes, allowing us to expand into new, less familiar habitats.

Ironically, humans are now driving more extreme climate changes than the planet has ever seen. Many animals may not be able to adapt, but the species which do succeed will rely on being able to change their behaviour to accommodate seasonal shifts in weather and food availability. MORE

Header image: Alexander Piel/GMERC, Author provided.