Research

Generally speaking, my research focuses on individual level variation in life history and fitness. More specifically, I am interested in how individuals navigate the complexities of competition and cooperation associated with life in social groups, with a focus on the behavioural endocrinology of male dominance. I am also excited to begin integrating conservation research and community initiatives in my work in order to improve the fate of people and primates.

New project beginning summer 2019: People & Primates: a bio-geo-cultural approach to understanding human-wildlife interactions, funded by the New Frontiers in Research Fund (in collaboration with Dr. Yuhong He, Geography Department, University of Toronto, and Dr. Suzanne MacDonald, Psychology Department, York University). This research will focus on the people and primates in and around the Lewa-Borana Conservancy, a large protected area in southern Kenya, and two villages on the shores of Lake Nabugabo in neighboring Uganda. All sites are affected by crop-raiding of small sustenance agricultural plots, with some farmers resorting to chasing, trapping and relocating, poisoning, and/or killing problem animals. However, the sites vary in the degree to which farmers are tolerant to crop-raiding, as well as in the level of direct and indirect benefits from researcher presence. To understand why people perceive human-wildlife interactions, especially the damage and consumption of agricultural foods by primates (i.e., crop-raiding), the proposed study will focus on bridging 1) traditional biological approaches to studying animal behaviour (e.g., scan sampling, non-invasive physiological monitoring, camera-traps), 2) anthropological methods for studying humans (e.g., surveys to examine variation in culture and wealth), and 3) geographical methods for studying animal and human land use (e.g., GIS with GPS-generated layers for animal movement, locations of schools, healthcare, and clean water, and LANDSAT layers for habitat characterization).

Current NSERC-funded research (2016-2021): I am interested in the ecological, social, and physiological factors that influence, and are influenced by, individual variation in behavior and reproduction. My developing research program focuses on the behavioural ecology and life-history of wild vervet monkeys (Chlorocebus pygerythrus). I use an individual approach to examine behavioural and physiological differences between individuals, but just as critically important is my use of a longitudinal approach, which will allow me to examine intra-individual variation across different life-history stages. Males are expected to invest differentially in various behavioural and reproductive strategies based on internal (e.g., age, health, hormones) and external factors (e.g., number of fertile females, number and quality of male competitors). These factors likely influence the conditions under which a particular male invests in the attainment and maintenance of high dominance rank or instead opts for low-ranking subordinate status.

Vervet monkeys at Lake Nabugabo, Uganda

2) I am expanding my dissertation research on capuchins to examine immunocompetence (i.e., gastrointestinal parasite) in relation to male dominance, reproductive effort (measured by testosterone and DHT), stress, and nutrition. This is part of a larger collaboration on the role of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) in mate choice (with Jessica Lynch Alfaro, Katharine Jack).

Filariopsis sp.

3) Comparative project looking at the costs of social dominance in red colobus monkeys (Procolobus rufomitratus), a species with a very different social system from capuchins, by examining the association of parasites with nutrition, glucocorticoids (i.e., stress), and androgens in Kibale National Park, Uganda.

RC_SRS_2299

 

Past research:

Subordinate subadult, subordinate adult, and alpha adult male white-faced capuchin monkeys (Cebus capucinus).

Subordinate subadult, subordinate adult, and alpha adult male white-faced capuchin monkeys (Cebus capucinus).

My doctoral thesis focused on beginning to understand how alpha males sire the majority of offspring given that overt male competition within groups is rare, while interactions between groups are agonistic and require male cooperation. Alpha males obtain only a slightly disproportionate number of copulations, but the timing of these in relation to female reproductive state have been difficult to identify given that females have concealed ovulation. Using data collected over 18 months in the field, my dissertation examined variation in male behavior and hormone profiles (testosterone, dihydrotestosterone, glucocorticoids) in relation to dominance and female reproductive state (as determined by fecal progesterone and estradiol levels), as well as looking at variation in male-male relationships and parallel dispersal (joint immigration or emigration).

I also have experience conducting research aimed at evaluating USDA recommendations on social housing for primates used in biomedical research, and to develop strategies for providing pair housing for laboratory primates to determine which type best promotes overall well-being and species-typical behavior (with Dr. Kate C. Baker, Tulane National Primate Research Center).

As an undergraduate student, I developed an honors project examining the relationship between perceived male vocal attractiveness and 2D:4D, a rarely studied correlate of prenatal testosterone exposure (with Dr. Robert D. Montgomerie, Queen’s University).

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  funding primate research and conservation
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