Parallel lasers and digital photography to estimate limb size of chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) at Ngogo, Kibale National Park, Uganda

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Department or Administrative Unit

Primate Behavior and Ecology

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How animals grow and when they stop growing are key variables for understanding life history evolution. Although theoretically straightforward, it is logistically difficult to take body size measurements of wild animals, especially endangered and arboreal primates. Here we employ a method that has gained popularity over the past decade: digital photography combined with parallel lasers. Two laser pointers are set at a known distance apart and then projected on the animal to act as a scale in the photograph. We used this method to estimate limb length and width in a large, cross-sectional sample of mid- to late-adolescent and young adult male chimpanzees at Ngogo in Kibale National Park, Uganda. After several years of modifying our methods, we present a protocol for estimating limb length and width in wild chimpanzees. We found that by mid- to late-adolescence, male chimpanzees have reached adult height, as chimpanzees between 12 and 20 years of age did not differ in their forearm or lower leg lengths. However, mid- to late-adolescent male chimpanzees appear to continue gaining mass, as we found a weak but positive correlation between age and limb width for both forearms and lower legs. Although our method proved relatively precise, we encountered several sources of error throughout this study, such as ensuring that the lasers were indeed parallel and in identifying anatomical landmarks in the photographs. We discuss these challenges with the hope of increasing transparency and collaboration in future studies of primate body size.


This article was originally published in Primates. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

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© The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Japan Monkey Centre 2022