Selected Projects


Physiological and Behavioural Endocrinology in Primates and Other Mammals

This research is conducted at the Roehampton Non-invasive Hormone Laboratory, directed by Ann MacLarnon. In this facility, we analyse reproductive and stress hormones, of wild and captive primates and other mammals, from faecal and urine samples. Areas of current work include primate stress responses to climatic factors and anthropogenic influences such as crop-raiding and ecotourism, and variation in stress responses in relation to behavioural and personality factors. We also work on reproductive hormones, both female and male, and as well as C-peptide, a urinary marker of energy balance, examining questions of the physiological basis of reproductive success, and the interactions between energy and health status, fertility and reproductive success.

Ann MacLarnon and Stuart Semple are Co-Investigators on two externally funded projects using endocrinological and behavioural approaches to assess emotion and wellbeing. The first project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust (Principal Investigator: Karen McComb, University of Sussex) is exploring emotional awareness in horses. The second, funded by the NC3Rs (Principal Investigator: Emily Bethell, Liverpool John Moores University) will develop attention bias as a novel method to assess psychological wellbeing in group-housed non-human primates. Ann and Stuart are also collaborating with Guy Cowlishaw, Institute of Zoology, on a long-term project examining stress factors in baboons at Guy’s field site in Tsaobis, Namibia.

At Roehampton, current PhD students utilising non-invasive hormone analyses are Laetitia Maréchal and Patrick Tkaczynski, both of whom are working on Barbary macaques at a field site in the Middle Atlas Mountains of Morocco, directed by Bino Majolo, University of Lincoln. Previous PhD students James Higham and Emily Lodge carried out hormone analyses on baboons from our field site at Gashaka-Gumti National Park, Nigeria, directed by Caroline Ross and Volker Sommer, University College London. Lauren Brent and Emily Bethell did their PhD work on rhesus macaques on Cayo Santiago, investigating behavioural and cognitive factors in relation to stress levels.
Each year up to 3 students on our MRes Primate Biology, Behaviour & Conservation carry out projects combining fieldwork and hormone analyses, and a number have resulted in publications in peer-reviewed journals.

Baboon socioecology and Human-Wildlife conflict in Gashaka Gumti National Park, Nigeria

Work on olive baboons at Gashaka Gumti National Park, Nigeria was started in 2000, as a part of the Gashaka Primate Project (GPP). The work is led by Caroline Ross, who collaborates closely with the director of GPP, Professor Volker Sommer of University College London. The research focuses on two groups of habituated olive baboons, the Gamgam troop, with home range that includes farmland, and the Kwano troop which lives entirely within the National Park. Research has concentrated on four main themes:

i) Comparisons of the two groups with a particular emphasis on the way in which the different environments of the two groups may affect their ecology, health and life-history. Work on these groups has covered food preferences and diet, and energetic advantages offered by crop-raiding, combined behavioural observation with hormonal analyses.
Stuart Semple and Caroline Ross have worked with MRes students to investigate the health of the two groups, with a particular emphasis on faecal parasites. This work suggests that parasite loads may be affected by anthropogenic disturbance and that high parasite loads may have fitness costs.

ii) Demographic and ecological comparisons of these forest-living West African baboons with other well-studied population. Comparative work has have been undertaken by Caroline Ross, Ymke Warren and James Higham, working with Ann MacLarnon and Stuart Semple. Comparative analyses that focus on the challenges faced by these animals have looked at the demography and socioecology of the Gashaka baboons and compared them with animals found in drier and more open habitats. The challenges faced by a very wet forest habitat are shown by the low birth rate of these animals in comparison to most other baboons, although forest-living may offer advantages such as a low predation risk that allows the Gashaka baboons to live in relatively small groups.

iii) Social and sexual behaviour. Our work on babonbehaviour, includes looking the behavioural correlates of both stress and reproductive hormones, visual and vocal communication )(PhD Student David MacGregor Inglis) and the role of symmetry in social and sexual attraction (Caroline Ross with MRes students). PhD student Nienke Alberts (supervised by Julia Lehmann and Stuart Semple) has investigated how ecology affects baboon social cohesion and network dynamics, demonstrating that the two troops differ in spatial and temporal cohesion. Julia Lehmann and Caroline Ross are using long-term data to assess baboon social complexity and the fitness consequences of social network positions. They found that although these baboons do not exhibit a clear hierarchy aggression networks can function as predictors of reproductive success. Julia Lehmann has also worked with MRes students to analyse how juveniles affect social networks, with the results suggesting that they might act as social glue between subadults and adults.

iv) Human-wildlife conflict: David Bennett’s PhD work (supervised by Caroline Ross and Garry Marvin) looked at Fulani pastoralists living in the highland ‘enclaves’ within the park. This research has revealed that disgruntlement with wildlife may be exacerbated by other challenges of living in a remote area, such as limited access to roads and health care. Such work shows us that we need to consider far more than direct human-wildlife interactions when thinking about conservation policy.

Living with large carnivores – implications for conservation in the South-West Balkans

This research involves the investigation of how large carnivores (wolves, bears & lynx) are experienced and responded to by different groups of people that share the landscape with these species (livestock breeders, foresters, hunters, farmers) in the south-west Balkan peninsula. The project involves Garry Marvin, Istvan Praet, Caroline Ross and their co-supervised PhD student, Aleksander Trajce. Work focuses on the conflicts generated by the predation of large carnivores, but also the concerns of other groups that such carnivores should be tolerated and conserved. A key aim of the research is to map the impact of these carnivores on human lives and to develop an understanding of what, how, and why attitudes are generated about them and how these might relate to issues of conservation.

Primate tourism as a tool for the conservation of Barbary macaques in Morocco

Primate tourism has the potential to contribute significantly to the conservation of endangered primate species. Recently, however, concerns have been raised about the impacts of such tourism on the animals involved. One such species is the Barbary macaque, which now remains only in small, isolated populations in Morocco. Primate tourism is a relatively recent and unregulated phenomenon in Morocco. In this multi-disciplinary project, involving Ann MacLarnon, Garry Marvin, Stuart Semple and PhD student Laetitia Marechal, we are using a range of non–invasive methods (behavioural observation, health measurements, endocrinology and ecology) to assess how tourism affects wild Barbary macaques, and ethnographic methods to assess the attitudes/expectations of tourists and local people. This work aims to promote Barbary macaque conservation by facilitating development of low impact tourism while also generating financial benefits to the local economy and fostering, support for the species.

Craniofacial pneumatization in primates and other mammals

This project takes place within the Roehampton Visualisation and Morphometrics Laboratory, directed by Todd Rae, where we analyse the craniofacial morphology and paranasal sinuses of extant and fossil primates and other mammals, primarily from computed tomography (CT) imaging.
Research projects in this area focus on:

a) Presence and size of paranasal sinuses in primates
b) Function of craniofacial pneumatization in Mammalia
c) Phylogenetic relationships of extant and extinct primates

Todd’s research commonly involves collaborative work with other researchers, both domestically and from abroad, and PhD and MRes students who carry out field work as well as working in laboratory. Areas of current work include relationships between pneumatization and facial form in Pleistocene fossil hominins, evolution of sinuses in strepsirhines, and inner ear morphology and behaviour in Old World monkeys.
Todd is currently collaborating with Thomas Koppe of Greifswald, Germany, on several projects related to form and function of primate pneumatization, with Brian Villmoare of George Washington Univ., USA, on fossil hominin internal cranial anatomy, with Nathan Jeffery of Liverpool Univ. and Eishi Hirasaki of the Primate Research Institute of Kyoto Univ., Japan, on colobine inner ear morphology and ecological correlates of sinus size in mammals.
At Roehampton, PhD student Laura Buck is utilising CT imaging and geometric morphometrics to analyse facial form in Pleistocene fossil hominins. Our previous PhD student Anneke van Heteren used geometric morphometrics based on digitised landmarks to test previous hypotheses about the evolution and adaptation of cave bears in Pleistocene Eurasia.
Students on our MRes Primate Biology, Behaviour & Conservation (and some advanced undergraduates) have also carried out projects utilising our CT and 3D workstation facilities, some of which we are currently preparing for publication.

Projects on sexuality, illness, and wellbeing

i) Antiretroviral treatment: a longitudinal study of a large-scale health intervention
In a longitudinal study focusing on the implementation, uptake and impact of antiretroviral treatment in Tanzania, Nadine Beckmann analyses processes of responsibilisation and claims to biological citizenship, the implications of an increasing trend towards the pharmaceuticalisation of public health, and changing conceptions of the course of HIV/AIDS, the potential for technological intervention, and, ultimately, the value of life. This research investigates the ways in which identities are reshaped through participation in large-scale biomedical interventions and how new relationships with the state, but also changing concepts of kinship, gender and generational relations may emerge, and under which conditions such transformations may take place.

ii) Pleasure and Danger: Love, Sex and Romance on the Swahili Coast
In Zanzibar, as in other parts of the world, shifts can be observed towards new ideals of family. In this project, Nadine Beckmann analyses reconfigurations of marriage practices and expectations, focusing on how young Zanzibaris negotiate tensions between traditional values and family expectations, modernist processes, and Islamic reformism in their quest for simultaneously respectable and fulfilling sexual and romantic marriage relationships.

iii) Fertility and reproduction: the quest for trust in an uncertain world
High maternal mortality and morbidity and high levels of infant death have led to an intense feeling of anxiety and uncertainty over pregnancy and childbirth among Zanzibari women. The common rhetoric portrays reproduction as a highly precarious process whose outcomes are never certain and that often ends in death. At the same time, children are highly desired and fertility rates are high. In the face of an unreliable system of public health provision, this project investigates the strategies women devise to contain the dangers of this central female duty, drawing on a range of routes to protect the mother’s and baby’s health and intricate processes of negotiation and testing.

Hunter-gatherer Behaviour and Bioarchaeology

This project investigates the ways that behavioural signals related to diet and tool use may be left on the most commonly preserved part of the skeleton—the teeth. This project is directed by Colette Berbesque, in collaboration with Frank Marlowe, Cambridge University. We are exploring the ethnographically documented behaviour of Hadza hunter-gatherers (such as diet and use of teeth as a third hand) in relation to bioarchaeological signals of those behaviours on their teeth. This will allow us to identify signs of behaviour that are more archaeological visible than others. To accomplish this, we have been collecting dental moulds of the Hadza to analyse macroscopic dental wear pattens. Also, in conjunction with Mathew Skinner (UCL) and Todd Rae, we are able to analyse the dental casts for microscopic dental wear patterns. This is in conjunction with gathering behavioural data on diet and other uses of the teeth of those same individuals. This research has several implications, of which the most important may be a better understanding of the evolution of the human diet. Another implication of this research is that identifying macroscopic and microscopic dental wear patterns caused by manufacturing wooden tools might help archaeologists identify tool making behaviour that might have existed before stone tools.