Marina Cords

Photo credit: Marina Cords

Professor Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology & Department of Anthropology Columbia University


B.S. 1978, Yale University Ph.D. 1984, University of California, Berkeley



Tel: (212) 854-7337

Fax: (212) 854-8188

Overview of Research

The focus of my research is animal social behavior, and I happen to study it in primates.  My interest in primates arises from the fact that these animals are social in a particular way, which involves the establishment of enduring and individualized social relationships.  Primates share these characteristics with several other social vertebrates,  but not with social invertebrates, even though the latter may be very impressively social.

At the most general level, I want to understand how the type of sociality shown by primates, and other vertebrates, relates to behavioral patterns and ecological constraints.   As a biologist,  I approach my questions with an evolutionary perspective.  However, while the evolution of behavior is one of my interests, my research has also focused on behavioral mechanisms and social development. My recent and current work focuses on (i) social cooperation, (ii)  mating strategies and mating systems, (iii) socioecology, or ecological explanations of variable social organization, and (iv) the development of social relations. Longterm study of a single population of long-lived animals, which I've now done for almost 30 years, leads also to an interest in life history variation. In the past, I have also studied mechanisms involved in maintaining group integrity (especially conflict resolution, ownership conventions, and grooming) and social and ecological relations between sympatric species.  Although I am not currently working on these particular topics, I remain very interested in them. By clicking on the links, you can read more about each of these foci.

Currently, most of my work is undertaken in the field, and is observational.  However, I have previously worked on captive animals as well, using experimental techniques.   I am not an exclusive devotée of field vs. lab, or observation vs. experimentation: different questions demand different kinds of study. I do wish field experiments were easier!

I direct the Kakamega Monkey Project in the Kakamega Forest, western Kenya, where I have worked since 1979.   My students and I have combined behavioral fieldwork with genetic and endocrinological techniques, undertaken in the laboratory, to gain a deeper understanding of the behavior of our subjects.

I also have an ongoing and somewehat intermittent relationship with human psychologists: I am interested in seeing how an evolutionary view of social competence jives with human social cognition and social behavior.  My main focus has been on conflict management – something that all social animals need to do.

No one can work on forest wildlife in Africa and remain unconcerned about conservation issues.  Most of my work does not focus on conservation-related questions per se.  Nonetheless, I  have become involved in community-level efforts to conserve the forest, and some of my students have tackled questions about variation in primate population density or effects of human-induced habitat change on behavior. I am also certain that our long-term research presence at the study site has contributed to the safe-guarding of at least a portion of the Kakamega Forest.


Foerster, S., Cords, M. & Montfort, S. (2012). Seasonal energetic stress in a tropical forest primate: proximate causes and evolutionary implications. PLoS ONE.

Laurance, W.F. et al. (215 co-authors).  2012. Averting biodiversity collapse in tropical forest protected areas. Nature 489: 290-294. doi:10.1038/nature11318

Gaynor, K. & Cords, M. 2012. Anti-predator and social monitoring functions of vigilance behavior in blue monkeys. Animal Behaviour 84: 531-537. doi: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2012.06.003

Gogarten, J.F., Brown, L.M., Chapman, C.A., Cords, M., Doran-Sheehy, D., Fedigan, L.M., Grine, F.E., Perry, S., Pusey, A.E., Sterck, E.H.M., Wich, S.A., Wright, P.D. 2012. Seasonal mortality patterns in non-human primates: implication for variation in selection across environments.  Evolution 10: 3252-3266. doi:10.1111/j.1558-5646.2012.01668.x

Cords, M. 2012. The behavior, ecology and social evolution of Cercopithecine monkeys. In: Mitani, J., Call, J., Kappeler, P., Palombit, R. & Silk, J., eds. The Evolution of Primate Societies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 91-112.

Lawrence J.M. & Cords, M. 2012. Old World Monkeys. Nature Education Knowledge 3(7):13.

Fashing, P., Nguyen, N., Luteshi, P., Opondo, W., Cash, J. & Cords, M. 2012. Evaluating the suitability of planted forests for African forest monkeys: A case study from Kakamega Forest, Kenya. American Journal of Primatology 74: 77-90doi: 10.1002/ajp.21012

Cords, M. 2012. The thirty year blues: what we know and don’t know about life history, group size and group fission of blue monkeys in the Kakamega Forest, Kenya. In: Kappeler, P. & Watts, D.  Long-term Studies of Primates. Berlin: Springer, pp. 289-312.

Klass, K.M. & Cords, M. 2011. Effect of unknown relationships on linearity, steepness and rank ordering of dominance hierarchies: simulation studies based on data from wild monkeys. Behavioral Processes 88: 167-186. doi:10.1016/j.beproc.2011.09.003 

Foerster, S., Cords, M. & Monfort, S. 2011. Social behavior, foraging strategies and fecal glucocorticoids in female blue monkeys (Cercopithecus mitis): Potential fitness benefits of high rank in a forest guenon. American Journal of Primatology 73: 870-882.

Bronikowski, A.M., Altmann, J., Brockman, D.K., Cords, M., Fedigan, L.M., Pusey, A., Stoinski, T., Morris, W.F., Strier, K.B., & Alberts, S.C.  2011. Aging in the natural world: comparative data reveal similar mortality patterns across primates. Science 331: 1325-1328.

Morris, W.F., Altmann, J., Brockman, D.K., Cords, M., Fedigan, L.M., Pusey, A.E., Stoinski, T.S., Bronikowski, A.M., Alberts, S.C., & Strier, K.B. 2011. Low demographic variability in wild primate populations: fitness impacts of variation, covariation, and serial correlation in vital rates. American Naturalist 177: E14-E28.

Brogan, C. & Cords, M. 2010. Daytime birth in a wild blue monkey.  African Primates 7: 61-63.

Strier, K.B., Altmann, J., Brockman, D.K., Bronikowski, A.M., Cords, M., Fedigan, L.M., Lapp, H., Liu, X., Morris, W.F., Pusey, A.E., Stoinski, T.S., & Alberts, S.C. 2010. The Primate Life History Database: a unique shared ecological data resource. Methods in Ecology and Evolution 1: 199-211. doi: 10.1111/j.2041-210X.2010.00023.x

Cords, M. & Chowdhury, S. 2010. Life history of blue monkeys (Cercopithecus mitis stuhlmanni) in the Kakamega Forest, Kenya. International Journal of Primatology 31: 433-455. doi: 10.1007/s10764-010-9405-7

Cords, M. & Fuller, J.L. 2010. Infanticide in blue monkeys (Cercopithecus mitis stuhlmanni) in the Kakamega Forest, Kenya: variation in the occurrence of an adaptive behavior. International Journal of Primatology 31: 409-431.doi: 10.1007/s10764-010-9400-z

Cords, M., Sheehan, M.J. & Ekernas, L.S. 2010. Sex and age differences in juvenile social priorities in female-philopatric, non-despotic blue monkeys. American Journal of Primatology 72: 193-205.

Mammides, C., Cords, M. & Peters, M. 2009. Effects of habitat disturbance and food supply on population densities of three primate species in the Kakamega Forest, Kenya. African Journal of Ecology 47: 87-96.

Smith, L.W., Link, A. & Cords, M. 2008. Cheek pouch use, predation risk and feeding competition in blue monkeys (Cercopithecus mitis stuhlmanni). American Journal of Physical Anthropology 137: 334-341.

Cords, M. 2008. Face-offs of the female kind. Natural History 117: 22-27.

Cords, M. 2007. Variable participation in the defense of communal feeding territories by blue monkeys in the Kakamega Forest, Kenya. Behaviour 144: 1537-1550.

Ekernas, L.S. & Cords, M. 2007. Social and environmental factors influencing natal dispersal in blue monkeys (Cercopithecus mitis stuhlmanni). Animal Behaviour 73: 1009-1020.

Mugatha, S.M., Ogutu, J.O., Cords, M. & Maitima, J.M. 2006. Dynamics of male residence and female oestrus during a breeding season of blue monkeys in the Kakamega Forest, Kenya. African Journal of Ecology 45: 49-54.

Pazol, K.P. & Cords, M. 2005. Seasonal variation in feeding behavior, competition and female social relationships in a forest-dwelling guenon, the blue monkey (Cercopithecus mitis stuhlmanni), in the Kakamega Forest, Kenya. Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology 58: 566-577.

Förster, S. & Cords, M. 2005. Socialization of infant blue monkeys (Cercopithecus mitis stuhlmanni): allomaternal care and sex differences. Behaviour 142: 869-896.

Fashing, P.J., Forrestel, A., Scully, C. & Cords, M. 2004. Long-term tree population dynamics and their implications for the conservation of the Kakamega Forest, Killen, M. & Cords, M. 2004. Pjotr Kropotkin oder Konrad Lorenz? Spektrum der Wissenschaft 03/2004:pp. 64-66.

Cords, M. 2002. Friendship among adult female blue monkeys (Cercopithecus mitis). Behaviour 139: 291-314.

Cords, M. 2002. Foraging and safety in adult female blue monkeys in the Kakamega Forest, Kenya. In: L.E. Miller, ed. Eat or Be Eaten: Predation-sensitive Foraging in Primates. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 205-221.

Killen, M. & Cords, M. 2002. Prince Kropotkin’s ghost. American Scientist 90: 208-210.

Aureli, F., Cords, M. & van Schaik, C.P. 2002. Conflict resolution following aggression in gregarious animals: a predictive framework. Animal Behaviour. 64: 325-343.

Glenn, M.E. & Cords, M. (eds). 2002. The Guenons: Diversity and Adaptation in African Monkeys. Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers.

Cords, M. 2002. When are there influxes in blue monkey groups? In: Glenn, M.E. & Cords, M. (eds). The Guenons: Diversity and Adaptation in African Monkeys. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, pp. 189-201.

Förster, S. & Cords, M. 2002. Development of mother-infant relationships and infant behavior in wild blue monkeys (Cercopithecus mitis stuhlmanni). In: Glenn, M.E. & Cords, M. (eds). The Guenons: Diversity and Adaptation in African Monkeys. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, pp. 245-272.

Chapman, C.A., Chapman, L.J., Cords, M., Gathua, J.M., Gautier-Hion, A., Lambert, J.E., Rode, K., Tutin, C.E.G. & White, L.J.T. 2002. Variation in the diets of Cercopithecus species: Differences within forests, among forests, and across species. In: Glenn, M.E. & Cords, M. (eds). The Guenons: Diversity and Adaptation in African Monkeys. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, pp. 325-350.

Cords, M. & Glenn, M.E. 2002. Epilogue to Glenn, M.E. and Cords, M. (eds). The Guenons: Diversity and Adaptation in African Monkeys. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, pp.425-430.

Cords, M. & Killen, M. 2001. How children handle conflict: better than we think. Chronicle of Higher Education 47: B15-B16.

Cords, M. 2000. Mixed-species association and group movement. In: Boinski, S. & P. Garber, eds, On the Move: How and Why Animals Travel in Groups. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 73-99.

Fashing, P. & Cords, M. 2000. Diurnal primate densities and biomass in the Kakamega Forest: An evaluation of census methods and a comparison with other forests. American Journal of Primatology 50:139-152.

Cords, M. 2000. Male influxes in blue monkeys.  “In the Field” entry in Dean Falk’s Primate Diversity. New York: W.W. Norton, Inc., pp. 208-209. 

Cords, M. 2000. Grooming partners of immature blue monkeys (Cercopithecus mitis). International Journal of Primatology 21: 239-254.

Cords, M. 2000. The number of males in guenon groups. In: Kappeler, P., ed. Primate Males. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 84-96.

Cords, M. & Aureli, F. 2000. Reconciliation and relationship qualities. In: Aureli, F. and F. de Waal, eds. Natural Conflict Resolution. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, pp. 177-198.

Cords, M. 2000. Agonistic and affiliative relationships of adult females in a blue monkey group. In: Whitehead, P. & C. Jolly, eds. Old World Monkeys. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 453-479.

Cords, M. & Killen, M. 1998. Conflict resolution in human and non-human primates. In: Langer, J. & Killen, M., eds., Piaget, Evolution, and Development. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, pp. 193-217.

Chism, J.B. & Cords, M. 1997-98. De Brazza’s monkeys Cercopithecus neglectus in the Kisere National Reserve, Kenya. African Primates 3: 18-22.

Cords, M. 1997. Friendships, alliances, reciprocity and repair. In: Whiten, A. and Byrne. R., eds. Machiavellian Intelligence II. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 24-49.

Cords, M. & Aureli, F.  1997. Reasons for reconciling. Evolutionary Anthropology 5: 42-45.

Cords, M. 1995. Predator vigilance costs of allogrooming in wild blue monkeys. Behaviour. 132: 559-569.

Cords, M. 1994. Experimental approaches to the study of primate conflict resolution. Roeder, J.J., Thierry, B., Anderson, J.R., & N. Herrenschmidt, eds. Current Primatology, Vol. II: Social Development, Learning and Behaviour. Strasbourg, Univ. Louis Pasteur, pp. 127-136.

Cords, M. 1993. Grooming and language as cohesion mechanisms: choosing the right data. Behavior Brain Science 16: 697-698.

Cords, M. & Thurnheer, S. 1993. Reconciling with valuable partners by long-tailed macaques. Ethology 93: 315-325.

Cords, M. 1993. On operationally defining reconciliation. American Journal of Primatology 29: 255-268.

Cords, M. & Aureli, F. 1993. Patterns of reconciliation among juvenile long-tailed macaques. In: Pereira, M.E. & L.A. Fairbanks, eds. Juvenile Primates Life History, Development and Behavior. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 271-284.

Cords, M. 1992. Social versus ecological intelligence. Behavior Brain Science. 15: 151.

Cords, M. 1992. Post-conflict reunions and reconciliation in long-tailed macaques. Animal Behaviour 44: 57-61.

Rowell, T.E., Wilson, C. & Cords, M. 1991. Reciprocity and partner preference in grooming of female blue monkeys. International Journal of Primatology 12: 319-336.

Moser, R., Cords, M. & Kummer, H. 1991. Social influences on grooming site preferences among captive long-tailed macaques. International Journal of Primatology. 12: 217-230.

Kummer, H. & Cords, M. 1991. Cues of ownership in Macaca fascicularis. Animal Behaviour 42: 529-549.

Cords, M. 1990. Vigilance and mixed species association in some East African forest guenons. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 26: 297-300.

Cords, M. 1990. Mixed-species association of East African guenons: general patterns or specific examples?  American Journal of Primatology 21: 101-114.

Wahome, J.M., Cords, M. & T.E. Rowell. 1989. Blue monkeys eat mice. Folia primatologica 51: 158-160.

Cords, M. 1988. Resolution of aggressive conflicts by immature male long-tailed macaques. Animal Behaviour 36: 1124-1135.

Cords, M. 1988. Mating systems of forest guenons. In: Gautier-Hion, A., Bourlière, F., Gautier, J.P. & J. Kingdon, eds. A Primate Radiation: The Evolutionary Biology of the African Guenons. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 323-339.

Cords, M. & T.E. Rowell. 1987. Birth intervals of Cercopithecus monkeys of the Kakamega Forest, Kenya. Primates 28: 277-281.

Cords, M. 1987. Forest guenons and patas monkeys: male-male competition in one-male groups. In: Smuts, B.B., Cheney, D.L., Seyfarth, R.M., Wrangham, R.W. & T.T. Struhsaker, eds.  Primate Societies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 98-111.

Cords, M. 1987. Mixed-species association of Cercopithecus monkeys in the Kakamega Forest, Kenya. Univ. Calif. Pub. Zool. 117: 1-109.

Cords, M. & T.E. Rowell. 1986. Group fission in blue monkeys of the Kakamega Forest, Kenya.  Folia primatologica 46: 70-82.

Cords, M., Mitchell, B.J., Tsingalia, H.M. & T.E. Rowell. 1986. Promiscuous mating among blue monkeys in the Kakamega Forest, Kenya. Ethology 72: 214-226.

Cords, M. 1986. Interspecific and intraspecific variation in diet of two forest guenons, Cercopithecus ascanius and C. mitis .  Journal of Animal Ecology 55: 811-828.

Cords, M. 1984. Mating patterns and social structure in redtail monkeys (Cercopithecus ascanius).  Zeitschrift für Tierpsychologie 64: 313-339.