NYCEP Alumnus Profile

Christopher Schmitt

Assistant Professor Department of Anthropology Boston University


B.S. 2003, University of Wisconsin, Madison M.A. 2006, New York University Ph.D. 2010, New York University




Overview of Research

I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Boston University. My central research questions involve primate development and life history and incorporate techniques from behavioral ecology, morphometrics, and genomics in two primate models: New World atelins and Old World vervets.

My dissertation project – Comparative behavior, development, and life history of wild juvenile atelin primates – assessed the impact of social structure on juvenile behavior and life history in sympatric spider (Ateles belzebuth) and woolly monkeys (Lagothrix poeppigii) in Amazonian Ecuador. Established hypotheses for the evolution of delayed maturation in primates emphasize juvenile foraging incompetence and competition with adults. I found that foraging competence is reached early with minimal competition in atelins. These results challenge the focus on juvenile incompetence in life history evolution. Two articles on my work with woolly monkeys, on juvenile development and ranging patterns, are submitted and will soon be published in The Woolly Monkey: Behavior, Ecology, Conservation, Systematics from Springer. I am currently expanding my spider monkey sample through collaborations with several research groups to undertake a larger comparative study of immature spider monkeys. Central to this effort is my collaboration with Conservation International to re-open the Raleighvallen site in Suriname to work with long-unstudied red-faced spider monkeys (Ateles paniscus), while my collaborators will provide me with data and access to their respective study populations of A. geoffroyi, A. belzebuth, and A. hybridus. With this project, I plan to work on the impact of ecological and social difference between populations on juvenile behavioral variation and to seek out correlates of this variation with life history traits.

In my postdoctoral work I use biomedical and genomics-based methodologies to better understand primate development. During a year of intensive fieldwork across Africa and the Caribbean with the Vervet Phenome/Genome Project I collected biological samples from over a thousand wild vervet monkeys (Chlorocebus spp.). I am collaborating on a number of NIH-funded projects ranging from the evolution of SIV in wild vervets (published in PLOS Pathogens), to vervet parasite diversity (in review at the South African Journal of Wildlife Biology), and developmental morphometrics. My core project involves the genomics of obesity during development in captive vervets at Wake Forest University. I am using over 700 fully sequenced and pedigreed individuals to run linkage analyses on obesity phenotypes. Preliminary analyses, presented at the ASHG and AAPA meetings in 2013, show significant and high heritability of chosen obesity phenotypes and evidence of significantly different developmental trajectories in chronically obese and non-obese adults. Association studies involving these obesity phenotypes are currently under way. I will next investigate the phenotypic impact of discovered QTL in our extensive wild sample, assessing variability in phenotype expression and population-specific selection based on local ecology and anthropogenic impacts.


Ma D, Jasinska A, Kristoff J, Grobler P, Turner T, Jung Y, Schmitt C, Raehtz K, Martinez N, Wijewardana V, Tracy R, Pandrea I, Freimer N, and Apetrei C. (2013). SIVagm infection in wild African green monkeys from South Africa: epidemiology, natural history, and evolutionary considerations. PLoS Pathogens 9(1):1-18.

Danzy Cramer J, Gaetano TJ, Gray JP, Grobler JP, Lorenz J, Freimer NB, Schmitt CAand Turner TR. (2013). Variation in scrotal color among widely distributed vervet monkey populations (C. a. pygerythrus and C. a. sabaeus). American Journal of Primatology 75:752-762. 

Di Fiore A, Link A, Schmitt CA, and Spehar S. (2009). Dispersal patterns in sympatric woolly and spider monkeys: Integrating molecular and observational data. Behaviour 146:437-470.