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Chronic stress could be one of the reasons some animals, specifically chimpanzee orphans, have less offspring or shorter lives.

ScienceDaily report said researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig and the Institute of Cognitive Sciences, CNRS in Lyon, investigated if, as orphan humans, orphan chimpanzees are exposed to chronic stress.

As a result, they discovered that maternal loss is stressful, although orphans are experiencing slight stress since hormones go back to normal after two years, potentially giving credit to care for other chimpanzees.

A mother's death is quite a traumatic event for immature offspring in species in which mothers offer prolonged maternal care, like long-lived mammals, as well as humans.

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Science Times - Wild Chimpanzee Orphans Can More Easily Overcome Stress from Loss of Their Mother, Study Shows
(Photo: Delphine Bruyere on Wikimedia Commons)
Young Chimpanzees

Orphan Mammals

Orphan mammals are dying earlier. They also have less offspring compared with non-orphans, although how such losses occur remains debatable.

Clinical research on humans and captive research on animals show that infants with mothers dying when they are young are exposed to chronic stress in their entire lives.

Nevertheless, such chronic stress, which has harmful consequences, can be lessened or even cancelled if human orphans are placed in foster families young enough.

The level of stress of orphans in the wild, and if wild animal orphans are exposed to chronic stress over decades as in humans, stays unknown, specifically in species where infants are reliant on their mother for at least the first decade of life, as in chimpanzees.

Young Chimpanzee Orphans are Found Highly Stressed

Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig and the Institute of Cognitive Sciences, CNRS in Lyon researchers examined more than 19 years, both the short- and long-term impacts of maternal loss orphan wild chimpanzee's stress.

The study, Early maternal loss leads to short- but not long-term effects on diurnal cortisol slopes in wild chimpanzees, published in Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology through Elife, shows that young orphan chimpanzees are highly stressed, specifically when they were orphaned at a young age.

Nevertheless, chimpanzee orphans who lost their mother over two decades previously, or were now adults, were not more stressed compared to other individuals whose mothers did not die.

The researchers said their work provides an important test of how important theories are that are trying to explain the effect of early life adversity when they are drawn from human clinical research.

Study Contrasting Human Studies

A similar Max-Planck-Gesellschaft specified that according to the study's first author, Cedric Girard-Buttoz, they wanted to know how significant they are for wild long-lived primates who are young like in humans, are reliant on their mother for more than 10 years.

The first author added that their results nicely oppose human studies and show that young orphan chimpanzees are recovering over time from their mother's initially stressful loss.

Essentially, Tai chimpanzees frequently care for or adopt orphans. In addition, they may carry orphans, share their food, as well as their nest at night with them, or shielding them from aggression.

Senior author Roman Wittig, also the head of Max Planck Institute's Tai Chimpanzee Project, highlighted that the situation of whether orphan chimpanzees exhibit stress recovery due to the support other chimpanzees provided stays to be examined.

Stress Chimpanzee Orphans Experience

Meanwhile, Catherine Crockford, the study's senior author, said, the stress orphan chimpanzees experienced, compared with non-orphans, does not directly explain their shorter lives, lesser offspring but may have an impact on other essential factors like growth during critical periods in development, as well.

In long-lived species, she added, where offspring are staying with their mothers for several years, the next step is to unpick what mothers are providing offspring that is helping them get ahead of orphans.

Lastly, it might be the presence of a mother that results in nutritional benefits, or social advantages, like providing buffering against aggression from others or a combination of the two.

Related information about chimpanzee orphans is shown on Their Turn's YouTube video below:

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