Professor Elizabeth Lonsdorf
I am an Acting Associate Professor of Anthropology at Emory University. I study primate behavior, learning, development and health. My current 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 courtesy J. Bray.
Thanatology is the scientific study of death and the practices associated with it. For decades, researchers have described individual cases of chimpanzee mothers' responses to the death of their infant and posited that such responses may be related to maternal condition, attachment, environmental conditions, or reflect a lack of awareness that the infant has died. Here, we use an information theoretic approach to test these hypotheses and found no strong support for any of the proposed explanations. This suggests that, like humans, chimpanzee responses to death may be highly individualized. This work was featured in Discover magazine. Photo courtesy E. Boehm.
We know very little about nonhuman primate attentional preferences for same- versus opposite-sex faces. This paper is one of the first to use a noninvasive eye-tracking paradigm to examine face preferences in capuchin monkeys. Here is the link to the publication. Read more about our work in the monkey lab here and here.
A multi-year collaboration between researchers at Gombe Stream Research Centre and Goualougo Triangle Ape Project shows that teaching varies with task complexity in wild chimpanzees. At Goualougo, where termite-fishing is more complex, mothers are more likely to share their tools with offspring than at Gombe, where termite-fishing is simpler. Understanding how chimpanzee tool traditions are passed on over generations can provide insights into the evolutionary origins of complex cultural abilities in humans. The publication can be found here, with commentary by Andrew Whiten here. Photo courtesy K. Walker.