24th July 2017 – Cat Hobaiter, University of St Andrews & Kirsty Graham, University of York

Hi Biotweeps!

Catherine Hobatier.pngCat (@nakedprimate)

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.

Kirsty Graham.jpgKirsty (@kirstyegraham)

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!

5th June 2017 – Michelle Rodrigues, University of Illinois

Michelle RodriguesHi Biotweeps!

I am a primatologist/biological anthropologist interested in social relationships and how they help us deal with life’s stressors. My research centers around the tend-and-befriend hypothesis, which proposes that female friendship evolved as a primate-wide strategy to cope with stressors.  Additionally, some of my past and current research addresses the development of social relationship during juvenility and adolescence, and how it helps prepare for adult challenges.

Most of my graduate research was conducted at El Zota Biological Field Station, Costa Rica, with a little help from the spider monkeys at Brookfield Zoo, IL.  I did my Master’s at Iowa State University, where I studied the emergence of sex-segregated social patterns in juvenile spider monkeys. I completed my PhD at Ohio State University, focusing on female social relationships and stress in adult female spider monkeys to test the tend-and-befriend hypothesis.

My fieldwork experience includes research on howler monkeys in Nicaragua and Costa Rica, free-ranging rhesus monkeys at Cayo Santiago, Puerto Rico, and gorillas and chimpanzees in Cameroon. I’ve also studied captive chimpanzees at the North Carolina Zoo, bonobos at the Columbus Zoo, and spider monkeys, big cats, and pachyderms at Brookfield Zoo.

Currently, I am studying a new focal species, humans! After stints as a Visiting Assistant Professor at Wake Forest University and online teaching with Eastern Kentucky University, I began a postdoc in the Laboratory of Evolutionary Endocrinology at the University of Illinois. With Kate Clancy, I am working on projects examining female friendship, stress, and depression in teenage girls, and how female friendship and social networks mediate workplaces stressors in female scientists of color. Along with my postdoc, I am also completing a certificate in Science Communication.

I’m also very interested in interspecies friendship, and my best friends are my cat and dog! I also met some of my best human friends through running. Last year I ran a half marathon and 25k, and this year I am attempting to train for the Chicago Marathon (although my injuries may have other plans). You can find me on twitter @MARspidermonkey, and read my blog posts at spidermonkeytales.blogspot.com  and http://lee-anthro.blogspot.com/

30th May 2016 – Sally Faulkner, Queen Mary University

Sally FaulknerI spent most of my twenties, running round the world, testing my parents sanity to the brink with harebrained hippy ideas and avoiding any sort of responsibilities. All of a sudden reality hit home – I don’t remember the impact – all I knew I was suddenly applying for university, aged 30 3/4. I haven’t actually left university since. I did my undergraduate degree in Zoology, a masters in Primatology, and I am currently in my 2nd (maybe…they all seem to merge into one when you don’t have a summer holiday) year of my 4 year PhD. I have been on a steep learning curve over the last 6 years. I had never really used computers before, let alone opened an excel spread sheet and now I spend my days coding spatial models and actually understanding it – mostly. I was very lucky to be able to spend three seasons (May to August) living and working in the Indonesian tropics – mostly chasing small, elusive, nocturnal primates and trying to avoid reticulated pythons and bird eating spiders. It was my first real scientist job, and I got a thrill every time I was introduced to the students as the tarsier scientist.  But thats all behind me now, I am now a computer scientist and people send me data that they have collected whilst avoiding near death experiences in dangerous places. I use a method called geographic profiling. It is a technique commonly used in criminology to locate serial killers, arsonists and rapists. We are applying this technique to biological data sets – sources of invasive species,  disease outbreaks, animal roosts (for example: small, elusive nocturnal primates) to name a few. It has also been used to locate and identify Banksy from the location of his art.

Follow me @Tarsiussallius

29th February 2016 – Higham lab, New York University

James HighamJames HighamI am a British biologist living in New York, and working as an Assistant Professor of Biological Anthropology at New York University (NYU). I am particularly interested in sexual selection, and the evolution of traits that are selected because they improve reproductive success. Since successful reproduction involves a lot of communication between individuals (both rivals, and potential mates), much of my work also has a communication focus. Having undertaken my undergraduate (University of Cambridge) and masters (University of Oxford) degrees, and following a period of fieldwork in Madagascar, I did my PhD at what is now the University of Roehampton. My PhD work was on olive baboons at Gashaka in Nigeria, and I followed this with post-doctoral work at Roehampton (on drills in Nigeria), The University of Chicago (on rhesus macaques on Cayo Santiago, Puerto Rico), and the German Primate Center (on crested macaques in Sulawesi, Indonesia). I moved to New York a little over 4 years ago, and now have a research group here which usually includes 1-2 postdocs, and currently 5 PhD students. I have an enzyme-immuno-assay laboratory here, where we measure different analytes and metabolites of the different primate species that we study (including humans!). Much of my recent work focuses on the evolution of visual signals, including the colorful facial patterns of guenon monkeys. The work that we undertake in our group varies from comparative analyses of whole groups of animals, to field studies of specific focal species in different parts of the tropics, to computational work that incorporates machine learning and computer vision. You can find out more about our work at www.nyuprimatology.com

Sandra Winters

Sandra WintersSandra is a PhD candidate at New York University whose research interests include adaptive coloration, visual signals, sensory ecology, and sexual selection. Her dissertation research focuses on the role of face patterns in the maintenance of reproductive isolation in guenons.

Megan PetersdorfMegan PetersdorfMegan is a PhD student in Biological Anthropology at New York University. She is interested in how different patterns and contexts of sexual selection have shaped the form, function, and evolution of sexually selected traits in primates. Her previous research examined symmetry in sexual swellings of female olive baboons in Nigeria, and the red facial coloration of male rhesus macaques on Cayo Santiago. She is currently developing her PhD dissertation on the reproductive strategies of kinda baboons in Zambia.