Professor Elizabeth Lonsdorf
I am a Professor of Anthropology at Emory University. My research program integrates research in primate behavior, learning, development and health. Currently, my research focuses on behavioral development and the intersection of health and behavior in wild chimpanzees, and social learning and tool use in a variety of primate species. I primarily conduct my research on chimpanzees at the Gombe Stream Research Centre in Tanzania, but also collaborate with colleagues at various captive research facilities. See below for recent research findings.
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Age at weaning is a key life history characteristic. However, almost nothing is known about sources of variation in chimpanzee weaning ages. Here we use the long-term data from Gombe Stream Research Centre to examine these sources. Sons and offspring of low-ranking mothers took longer to wean relative to daughters and offspring of higher-ranking mothers. Individual variation between mothers was substantial. The link to the publication can be found here. This work was supported by the National Science Foundation. Photo by J. Bray.
Infectious disease is one of the primary conservation concerns for the nonhuman primates at Gombe National Park. In an attempt to understand and mitigate the risk of disease for the chimpanzees of Gombe National Park, Tanzania, we initiated a long‐term health‐monitoring program in 2004. Here, we describe the development and expansion of the Gombe Ecosystem Health project, review major findings from the research and summarize the challenges and lessons learned over the past 16 years. We also highlight future directions and present the opportunities and challenges that remain when implementing studies of ecosystem health in a complex, multispecies environment. Photo by A. Pusey.
The extensively studied features of tool use in modern chimpanzees can provide important insights into possible features of tool use in early hominins. Here we review findings from field studies of chimpanzee tool use in four different domains: tool making and associative tool use, the acquisition of tool-use skills, teaching, and cumulative cultural evolution. These findings demonstrate that studies of chimpanzees are particularly relevant to our understanding of cultural evolution. Further, we argue that there remains much to be gained through continued integration of cognitive and behavioral approaches by comparative psychologists and biological anthropologists to elucidate the evolutionary processes that have shaped our lineage. Photo by K. Walker.
Increased risk of pathogen transmission through proximity and contact is a well-documented cost of sociality. Affiliative social contact, however, is an integral part of primate group life and can benefit health. To improve our understanding of this tradeoff, we used social network analysis to investigate whether contact via association in the same space and/or physical contact measured through grooming were associated with parasite species richness. Our findings suggest that more gregarious individuals – those who spent more time with more individuals in the same space - had higher parasite richness, while the connections in the grooming network were not related to parasite richness. Photo courtesy of the Science Museum of Minnesota.