Research

Our research investigates the behavioral ecology of non-human primates, with a focus on our closest living relatives, bonobos and chimpanzees, in order to understand the evolution of human behavior. One branch of the lab’s research addresses questions related to causes and consequences of cooperation and competition within and between groups. For example, we would like to know what facilitates tolerance between groups; in what way social bonds and cooperative behavior link; how female bonobos came to occupy high dominance ranks within groups; and by what means mothers help their sons to reproduce. Another line of work is focused on documenting and describing the social and ecological differences between chimpanzees and bonobos in order to be able to better understand the selection pressures driving these striking differences.

Researcher in the forest  Bonobo group on a tree branch

Current areas of focus include:

  • Ecological drivers of prolonged intergroup associations
  • Behavioral and endocrinological mechanisms underlying intergroup tolerance
  • The role of differentiated social relationships in within- and between-group cooperative exchange
  • Mechanisms of within- and between-group cooperation in primates
  • Evolution of behavioral diversity within bonobos and between bonobos and chimpanzees

Our approaches:

 

  • We combine behavioural data collection in the field with non-invasively collected physiological markers to infer about behavioural mechanisms
  • We investigate underlying evolutionary forces by studying the behavioural and ecological variation across groups, populations or species.

Group of researchers at Kokolopori site

 

We believe that we can learn much more about the evolution of traits by studying their variation in a comparative perspective and as a collaborative endeavor with specialists from different fields. Our current close collaborators include Steve Ahouka, Catherine Crockford, Zanna Clay, Tobias Deschner, Barbara Fruth, Cedric Girard Buttoz, Gottfried Hohmann, Fabian Leendertz, Simone Pika, Anne Pisor, Simon Townsend, Michael Wilson, and Roman Wittig.

 

Positions are available for undergraduate and graduate students, as well as for field assistants. Please email msurbeck@fas.harvard.edu for more information.