While I am broadly interested in the behavior, physiology, and ecology of wild chimpanzees, I am particularly interested in the ways infectious agents and immune investment impact chimpanzee sociality and life history.
Currently, as a member of the Goldberg Lab, I am investigating variation in the chimpanzee gastrointestinal virome to better understand (1) the relationship between viral shedding and immunosenescence (i.e., the aging of the immune system), and (2) how reproductive strategies shape sex-specific patterns of immune investment.
I am also investigating urinary biomarkers to assess energetic trade-offs between reproduction and immune function in sexually mature chimpanzees. How do social factors (e.g., social status, social bond strength) affect reproductive and health outcomes? When do chimpanzees prioritize immune function over reproductive effort, and vice versa? Do reproductive hormones (e.g., testosterone) also modulate investment in immune function?
We have a lot to learn about the diversity, pathogenicity, and virulence of infectious agents harbored by nonhuman primates in their natural habitats. Thankfully, recent methodological innovations have made the noninvasive identification of infectious agents in wild populations more feasible. My interest in this area is defined by two overarching goals:
1) Understanding the evolution of primate social organization and behavior. Infectious disease has long been hypothesized as a critical evolutionary pressure shaping primate societies, affecting numerous variables from group size to territory use and the formation of affiliative relationships. We now have the tools to engage with these questions. Do differences in primate social structure drive differences in infectious disease exposure (or vice versa)? How are infectious agents distributed in primate social groups? How do social relationships inform infectious disease burdens?
2) Conservation. Infectious diseases--originating both from humans (e.g., "common cold" viruses) and nonhuman sources (e.g., anthrax)--are among the greatest threats to great ape survival. Only by identifying disease-causing agents and pinpointing patterns of infection can we make informed decisions for the protection of chimpanzees and other apes.
THE NGOGO CHIMPANZEES
My research has primarily focused on the Ngogo chimpanzee community of Uganda's Kibale National Park. Ngogo is notable as the largest community of wild chimpanzees yet described: In 2016, there were more than 200 individuals in the community. Ngogo is also remarkable for high frequencies of lethal intergroup aggression and predation of other primate species, having hunted red colobus monkeys to the brink of local extinction.
The Ngogo Chimpanzee Project (NCP), started in 1995, is directed by David Watts (Yale University), John Mitani (University of Michigan), and Kevin Langergraber (Arizona State University).
For more information about research, conservation, and education efforts at Ngogo, please see the NCP's website.