Dr. Jane Goodall visits the U of M for collaborative ecology and computer science projects

Famed chimpanzee researcher Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and a UN Messenger of Peace, visited the University of Minnesota campus March 20 to hear about the interdisciplinary work of University ecologists and computer scientists on chimpanzee data through the Jane Goodall Institute’s Center for Primate Studies (JGI-CPS). CSE Professors Dr. Shashi Shekhar and Dr. Jaideep Srivastava are both involved in the project. 

As part of the University project, researchers have been analyzing and digitally organizing more than 46 years of data collected by Goodall and her research team at Gombe National Park in Tanzania. The data focus on chimpanzee behavior and habitat, and include paper-based maps plotting chimpanzee travel, geographical data, and hand-written check sheets and notes. Video and satellite images are now being incorporated into the project as well.

Researchers are working to organize more than 600 hours of chimpanzee video footage from JGI Videographer Bill Wallauer into a database housed in the University’s Digital Technology Center. They have developed a database prototype in which a chimpanzee’s name and behavior can be entered to retrieve the corresponding video clips. Another project developed data mining techniques to extract patterns in female ranging and association patterns from the long-term behavioral database.

Professors Shekhar and Srivastava said they have been amazed at the information gleaned from the data so far. For example, Srivastava said they’ve discovered patterns in female chimpanzee relationships and location behavior that reveal the importance of dominance rank. “To me personally, it’s fascinating,” Srivastava said. “I learned how similar chimpanzee behavior is to human behavior.”

“Because chimpanzees are our closest relatives, we’re always thinking about their similarities and differences,” said Dr. Anne Pusey, director of the JGI-CPS and University professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior. She added that computer scientists have proved helpful in both organizing the data and analyzing it. “Computer Science can bring interesting new ways of understanding factors that control group composition and size and even disease transmission,” Pusey said. 

For more information about the Jane Goodall Institute’s Center for Primate Studies at the University of Minnesota, visit www.discoverchimpanzees.org