Martin Surbeck's research centers around the dynamics of competition and cooperation within groups. He utilizes bonobos and chimpanzees as models to shed light on our evolutionary history. Of particular interest to him are the social systems of bonobos and the selective pressures that distinguish them from chimpanzees. Employing a comparative approach and drawing data from wild populations, Martin aims to comprehend various social traits. In 2016, Martin played a crucial role in establishing a new bonobo research site at Kokolopori in collaboration with BCI and Vie Sauvage. This endeavor involved closely monitoring three habituated bonobo groups, combining behavioral observations with endocrinological data to gain valuable insights into intergroup tolerance.
I don't get nervous spending the night in the Congo because it's a beautiful experience. The animal noises, insects chirping, and other sounds make sleeping not so deep, so you remember your dreams more often at first. Over time, though, you get used to the environment and sleep deeper, so you don't remember them as much. Transcript: "Yeah, I wouldn't say I got nervous spending the night in the Congo. I would not say. These nights are very beautiful. They have a lot of animal noises, insects chirping, and they can be very loud, but also very beautiful. They make you sleep not so deep. And so what happens in the beginning that you often really remember your dreams, something I never did. And I guess that changed over time because you just get more used to it. And therefore, you probably sleep deeper and you don't remember your dreams."
In bonobos, moms help their sons acquire mating and reproductive success. They intervene in male competition by grooming attractive females and deterring other males from mating with them. Males do not use aggression against females to coerce them into mating, which is a trait that separates bonobos from the closely related chimpanzees where males use aggression to achieve mating. Transcript: "Yeah. I think one funny aspect about the May competition in bonobos is that the moms are very helpful to their sons in terms of acquiring mating and also reproductive success. So sometimes-- the term is [INAUDIBLE] moms or something like that. It really seems that high-ranking females, if they have adult sons, these sons are particularly successful. And females, they sometimes intervene in male competition. They hang around these attractive females as well. They groom them and they try to deter other males from mating with them. So that's an interesting aspect. The other thing which is also interesting is that males do not use aggression against those females to coerce them into mating or to force them into mating. So that is something which really is not unique in bonobos, but is a trait which separates bonobos very clearly from the very closely related chimpanzees where males use aggression to achieve mating-- use aggression against females to basically mate with females."
What can help society is understanding that patriarchy, sexual violence and hostile relations between groups are not inherent to human evolution. Learning from bonobos can open our perspective and help us learn more about ourselves, which is a good thing. Transcript: "You know, that's always a very difficult question what can help us as a society many things that we feel help us maybe don't help us so much. But I feel what we are learning is kind of that there are reasons for hope that many patriarchal structures is not a law of nature, there are ways around that. Sexual violence is not the default in human evolution. Necessarily can be overcome, or it was not always there. And relationships between groups might also not inherently hostile. So I feel in that respect it just what we learn from Bonobos are also through my work just opens up our perspective as what the options are and what we kind of entail in our nature and where we come from and just helps us to learn a little bit more about that. And I think that is a good thing."
Mia is holding her baby brother and Zuri is grooming them. X is embracing Missouri and Mia is grooming her mother. The third infant has no name, but they have a Resort painted chest. X is now grabbing the third infant. Transcript: "You have 10 in the center? You've Mia and she's carrying. Her baby brother and she just put him next to her. She's holding him now. Running a girl. Tim's is looking at them. to the mother of times, it's been mother of Mia and Zuri is grooming much and Now, X is grabbing Missouri. These are two miles from different communities that you've now made on infant. Male X is embracing Missouri. Mia's turning back around. She's going to groom her mother. I think. And then the little baby behind them is the infinitive darling that doesn't have a name. And darling behind them is grooming thin. The darling from the koko-san from, for Coco. And we have again on top 10 teams with Resort painted chest. Now, he's grabbing the third infant. Start."
Bonobo groups consist of several adult females and males, who split during the day into smaller subgroups and come together at night to nest. Females leave their natal community when they reach maturity, while males remain. High-ranking females and their sons are central in these groups. Neighboring communities come together from time to time and sometimes a group can be two communities. Transcript: "So bonobo groups, they consist of several adult females and several adult males. We call them communities. They normally don't stick the whole time together. They fission and fusion. So that means kind of they split during the days into smaller subgroups of varying size and composition. We call those parties. And then sometimes, they come all together at night to nest, but sometimes they don't. Then in those groups, normally the females, they leave their natal community when they reach maturity and the males remain. So we have adult males that still live with their moms, Italian way. And then we have-- I think-- yeah, maybe interesting is also females. They're kind of very central in those groups. And then the sons of these high-ranking females, they can be central, too. And you have neighboring communities, which depend on the population. They come together from time to time and they hang out hours to days together, different communities. Can be peaceful, can sometimes be aggressive. But sometimes you come to a group and you think it's one, but it's actually two if you know more about it."
Humans share a last common ancestor with chimpanzees and bonobos, two million years ago their lines split, and humans are the closest living relatives to both. Transcript: "We actually have two closest living relatives, which are equally close related to us, the chimpanzees and the bonobos. We share a last common ancestor with them about 10 million years ago and they kind of continue this as one species from that point. And about, let's say, two million years ago, their lines split again in what we know by now today are the chimpanzees and the bonobos. And interestingly also for them, humans are their closest living relatives. People think gorillas. No. So if you ask a chimp or a bonobo who is your closest living relative besides each other, for them, it's humans."