Marlen Fröhlich


82319 Seewiesen


Marlen Fröhlich


Marlen Fröhlich


IMPRS Doctoral Student


  • +49 8157 932-243



Main Focus

Gestural signalling in wild chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) – development and underlying cognitive complexity
Advancing gestural and neural research on non-human primates over the past decades has led many theorists to emphasize the role gesture might have played in the evolution of language. Although the flexible and intentional use of gestural signals in great apes is well established, the development and underlying cognitive complexity of these communicative means are to date poorly understood. By conducting the first longitudinal study on gestural development and complexity in two subspecies of free-living chimpanzees (P.t. verus and P.t. schweinfurthii) we will expand upon the pioneering study conducted by Plooij (1978). Apart from systematically retesting his results on the onset and development of intentional signaling in infant chimpanzees we will use newly developed methods to include further features crucial for human language such as goal-outcome matching and the role of learning.
To do so, the communicative behaviour (i.e., gestures as well as co-occurring vocalisations and facial expressions) of chimpanzee infants between the ages of 9–65 months and their mothers will be observed over two consecutive time points in the communities of Kanyawara, Kibale National Park, Uganda, and Taï, Taï National Park, Côte d’Ivoire. Six mother-offspring dyads at each field site will be studied using focal video recordings, focusing on four different behavioural contexts (grooming/affiliation; play; food-sharing; leaving location). In addition, the socio-cognitive and locomotor development of the infant as well as the mother-infant relationship will be traced using 15-min focal scans and developmental checklists.

Plooij, F. X. (1978). Some basic traits of language in wild chimpanzees? In A. Lock (Ed.), Action, gesture and symbol (pp. 111–131). London: Academic Press. 

Curriculum Vitae


  • From 05/2012 PhD studentship, Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Seewiesen, Germany (group S. Pika)
  • Nov 2010 – Jun 2011 Master’s thesis: ‘Studying the foraging ecology of leopards (Panthera pardus) using GPS location and activity data’, Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, Berlin, Germany
  • Jan 2010 – Aug 2010 Semester abroad at University of the Western Cape, Bellville, South Africa (Scientific Methodology and Herpetology)
  • Apr 2009 – Aug 2011 MSc in Organismic Biology and Evolution, Humboldt University Berlin, Germany
  • Jun 2008 – Sep 2008 Bachelor’s thesis: ‘Using infrared thermography to study a captivegroup of bonobos (Pan paniscus)’, Free University Berlin, Germany
  • Oct 2005 – Sep 2008 BSc in Biology (focus on Zoology/Behavioral Science), Free UniversityBerlin, Germany
Work and Field Experience
  • Mar 2013 – May 2013 Dissertation fieldwork, Kibale Chimpanzee Project, Kibale National Park, Uganda
  • Oct 2012 – Dec 2012 Dissertation fieldwork, Taï Chimpanzee Project, Taï National Park, Côte d’Ivoire
  • Oct 2011 – Apr 2012 Research assistant, Humboldt Research Group ‘Comparative Gestural Signalling’, MPI for Ornithology, Seewiesen, Germany, ‘Gestural signaling in wild chimpanzees during grooming interactions’
  • Mar 2011 – Apr 2011 Fieldwork for Master’s thesis, The Cape Leopard Trust, Cederberg Mountains, South Africa, ‘Feeding ecology of Cape leopards’
  • Aug 2009 – Sep 2009 Internship, Red Sea Environmental Centre, Dahab, Egypt, ‘Reef Monitoring in the Northern Red Sea’
  • Jul 2009 – Jan 2010 Research assistant, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Kulturtechnik, Berlin, Germany, Project: ‘Kabinette des Wissens – Zoologische Sammlungen‘
  • Jan 2009 – Mar 2009 Volunteer, Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, Brisbane, Australia (N.Hallewell), ‘Conservation efforts for Australian wildlife species’ 
  • Sep 2008 – Dec 2009 Working Holiday, Australia
  • Nov 2007 – Sep 2008 - Data collection at Berlin Zoo, Germany, ‘Studying nonhuman primates using infrared thermography’
  • Sep 2007 – Nov 2007 Internship, Museum of Natural History, Berlin, Germany ‘Curation of mammalian collections’

Awards & Scholarships
  • 05/2014 - IMPRS student grant
  • 02/2014 - Dissertation Fieldwork Grant of the Wenner-Gren Foundation
  • 02/2012 - Erhard Höpfner Studienpreis (Prize for Best Masters Thesis 2011), Scientific Society of Berlin
  • 01/2010 - Student exchange scholarship, Humboldt University of Berlin
  • 12/2008 - DAAD Travel Grant, German Academic Exchange Service

Organizational Unit (Department, Group, Facility):

  • Humboldt Research Group Pika
  • MPI for Ornithology Seewiesen
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