I’ve been a field primatologist with the School of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of St Andrews for the past 12-years. Much of that time has been spent living and working with the chimpanzees at the Budongo Conservation Field Station in Uganda, but I’ve also worked with baboons and gorillas, and at other sites across Africa.
These days I’m a full time lecturer, but I still get to spend around 5-months a year in the field. My main area of research is ape communication – in particular gestures; but I moonlight on other topics including social learning, tool use, and life history. Much of my work takes a comparative perspective on cognition – looking at the behaviour of modern species of apes (including us) for areas of similarity and distinction that might give us clues about its evolutionary origins.
Around 6-years ago I started the habituation of a new chimpanzee community in Budongo – the Waibira group – with over 30 independent males (10-15 being typical) it’s a whole new world of fun/data collection chaos! This summer I’m piloting a gesture project with the mountain gorillas in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, which is where I’ll be tweeting from during our Biotweeps week (apologies in advance for some *very* excited tweets/unnecessarily frequent pictures of infant gorilla floof).
Outside of my day job I’m the VP for Communications for the International Primatological Society and if I’m really not working you can usually find me trying to climb up something (mountains, rocks, trees), or with a nice cup of tea and the world service on the radio.
I’m basically a younger, taller version of Cat (we both have bizarre multinational accents and love rock climbing) who does the same research but with bonobos, the chimpanzee’s sexy cousin. I just finished my PhD at the University of St Andrews looking at how bonobos use gestures, what the gestures mean, and how their gestures compare to those used by chimpanzees.
At the beginning of this month, I started a postdoc at the University of York, UK. So while Cat will be tweeting from the field (note to Cat: NEVER apologise about pictures of infant gorilla floof), I will be tweeting from my office plotting my next fieldwork at Tangkoko, Indonesia, in January. From bonobos to Sulawesi crested macaques!
Last week, we launched an online experiment testing human understanding of great ape gestures. Cat and I found that bonobos and chimpanzees share most of their gestures and gesture meanings, and we want to know whether untrained humans give the same responses to the gestures as a bonobo or chimpanzee would.
So that’s us! We’re really looking forward to a Biotweeps week full of primate facts, fieldwork stories, online experiments, and gorilla floof!