The New York Consortium in Evolutionary Primatology
Professor Emeritus of Anthropology New York University
B.A. 1960, University College London Ph.D. 1964, University College London
Our field studies of wild primates, especially cercopithecoid monkeys, at various sites in tropical Africa have a broad focus on the processes by which species originate, become distinct, interact, and sometimes merge by hybridization. Some students have developed independent field projects, notably on mandrills (Mandrillus sphinx) in Gabon and hybridizing guenons (Cercopithecus ascanius and C. mitis) in Tanzania. Others have pursued projects based within our two major, ongoing, research efforts. The older of these is on the baboons (Papio hamadryas and P. anubis) and grivet monkeys (Cercopithecus aethiops aethiops) of the Awash National Park, Ethiopia. The project was begun in 1973 in collaboration with Hans Kummer (University of Zurich) and F.L. Brett (University College London), and since 1982 has been run in collaboration with J. Phillips-Conroy (Washington University, St. Louis). Many graduate students from NYU and other institutions have participated in fieldwork, and most of these have gone on to complete Ph.D. dissertations on the material gathered. Most of these have used a combination of observational data-gathering and increasingly sophisticated genetic and hormonal analyses. Our study was the first to investigate in depth a naturally-occurring primate hybrid zone and the first to apply "hands-on" methods of live-trapping, sampling, and release, to primate populations that were concurrently the subject of behavioral observation. Our quest for understanding of the biological bases of behavioral variation has led us into new areas – for instance assaying neurotransmitters in the cerebrospinal fluid, and relating their levels to variation in behavior. As a result, we have a unique genetic, developmental and biomedical database that extends over nearly thirty years, and much work remains to be done on it in the labs. Since 2000, our work on the Awash hybrid zone has centered on materials in hand, although a related project on hamadryas baboons initiated by a NYCEP colleague, Dr Larissa Swedell (CUNY), continues to collect information in the Awash region.
In 2000, we initiated a new major project in Zambia, to investigate the distribution of three distinct baboon species (Papio cynocephalus, P. ursinus, and P. kindae) with adjoining ranges. We have been able to document the existence of all three of the predicted hybrid zones on the ground, and to make preliminary observations on the social behavior of the small-sized P. kindae, which turns out to have some unique and unexpected features. We have also collected material from which (in collaboration with Dr A. Burrell, a graduate of CSHO and NYCEP) we are piecing together the details of the complex genetic structure of these unique populations. A new phase of the Zambian project, slated to begin in 2010 with NSF support, involves a live-trapping program to document the basic biology, population structure, genetics and endocrine profiles of P. kindae, which are all virtually unknown.
We anticipate that there will be future opportunities for fieldwork by graduate students, both as members of field research teams, and individually in research projects.