Orangutans make complex economic decisions regarding the use of tools – ScienceDaily


The flexible use of tools is closely associated with higher mental processes such as the ability to plan actions. Today, a group of cognitive biologists and comparative psychologists from the University of Vienna, the University of St Andrews and the University of Veterinary Medicine of Vienna, including Isabelle Laumer and Josep Call, studied tool – related decision making in a species of non – human primate – – orangutan. They discovered that the monkeys carefully weighed their options: eat an immediately available food reward or wait and use a tool to get a better reward instead? To do this, great apes looked at details such as the quality differences between the two food rewards and the functionality of the tools available in order to obtain a high quality food reward, even when multidimensional task components had to be evaluated simultaneously.

The use of tools in animals is a rare activity and often quickly considered intelligent because of its striking nature. For example, antlions throw small pebbles on potential prey, archer fish catch them by spitting water on them, and sea otters use stones to break the shells. Nevertheless, most of the types of tools used are quite inflexible, generally applied to a given situation and tightly controlled by processes that are part of the innate behavioral repertoire of the animal concerned. On the other hand, the intelligent use of tools requires the integration of several sources of information in order to flexibly adapt to changing environmental conditions.

Orangutans share 97% of their DNA with us and are among the smartest and most endangered primates. They have a long-term memory similar to that of humans, regularly use various sophisticated tools in nature and build each night nests made from foliage and branches. In their natural habitat, the evergreen rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra, orangutans must take into account several factors simultaneously, such as the predictability of finding ripe fruit, the distance and accessibility of food as well than the tools available to open extractable food sources. Until now, it was not known how orangutans adapted their decisions when using a tool was involved and how many factors they could handle simultaneously to make profitable decisions.

Researchers from the University of Vienna, the University of Veterinary Medicine of Vienna and the University of St Andrews have for the first time studied how orangutans adapt their decisions when they do not. use of a tool is involved and the number of factors that they can handle simultaneously. make profitable decisions at the Wolfgang Koehler Primate Research Center in Leipzig.

Researchers used two different types of food: banana pellets, which are the preferred type of food for orangutans, and apple pieces that they like, but they do not know if they exist. They could extract these items from two different devices: one device requiring a probe with the help of a stick to get the food product, while the other needed to drop a bullet at the bottom. ; inside. Each device can only be used with the corresponding tool. During testing, orangutans faced one or two devices with bait and a choice between two items (usually a food and a tool). Once the monkeys have chosen one object, the other is immediately removed.

Orangutans adapted their decisions flexibly according to the conditions: "If the piece of apple (friendly food) or the banana pellet (favorite food) was out of reach immediately inside the device and as the choice was between an immediate banana pellet and a tool, they chose the food rather than the tool, even when the tool was functional for each device, "says Isabelle Laumer, who directed the # 39; s experience. "However, when orangutans could choose between the apple and a tool, they chose the tool, but only if it worked for the available device: For example, when the stick and the friendly food were available but that great apes were facing baited ball with the favorite banana pellet, they chose the apple instead of a non-functional tool.However, when the stick device with the banana pellet was available, they chose the apple tool instead of the apple, "she added. explains "In one last task, it was necessary that the orangutans concentrate simultaneously on both devices, one primed with the banana pellet, the other with the apple and orangutans had to choose between the two tools for which they were still able to make profitable decisions.Choose the tool that allowed them to operate the device with the favorite food ".

These results are similar to the results obtained in Gofffin's cockatoos that have already been tested in the same work. "Similar to monkeys, cockatoos could overcome immediate impulses in favor of future earnings even if this tool involved use." The birds were faced with the choice between a tool to recover a food product out of reach and an immediate reward. We found that they, like the great apes, were very sensitive to the quality of the immediate versus the reward out of reach, while determining if the available tool would actually work with the task at hand, "says Alice Auersperg, head of the Goffin Lab in Austria, continues: "This again suggests that similar cognitive abilities can evolve independently in very closely related species." Nevertheless, cockatoos have reached their limit at the last task in both devices baited with both possible food qualities and both tools were available at the same time. "

"Optimality models suggest that orangutans should adapt their foraging decisions flexibly based on the availability of high nutritional value food sources, such as fruit," says Josep Call. from the University of St Andrews. "Our study shows that orangutans can simultaneously consider multidimensional components in order to maximize their gains, and it is very likely that we do not even reach the full extent of their processing capabilities. ;information."

According to a 2007 study by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), orangutans will disappear in the wild in the next two decades if current trends in deforestation continue "said Isabelle Laumer. "The loss of habitat due to the extensive production of palm oil is the main threat.Unfortunately, palm oil is still the most widely used vegetable oil in the world. As long as there is a demand for palm oil and we continue to buy products containing palm oil, more and more tropical forests will be destroyed.Each of us can have a positive impact on the survival of these extraordinary animals by making buying decisions that may seem small, but that can collectively have a huge impact on our planet. "

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