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Department of Evolutionary Anthropology

Maria van Noordwijk

Maria van Noordwijk, Dr.

Research interest

I am interested in maternal care, especially as it extends beyond weaning. Most primates live in social groups, which allows mothers to wean their offspring long before they could survive on their own. Post-weaning association between mothers and offspring enables an extended phase of socially mediated skill-learning, as well as active maternal social support beyond infancy. Thus, the period of exclusive maternal investment is followed by a phase with maternal care that is beneficial to the offspring but much less costly to the mother.

My current research focusses on orangutans, studied in their natural habitat in Indonesia. Unlike most other diurnal primates, orangutans have an individual based fission-fusion social organization, yet females maintain life-long social relationships with their maternal kin. Orangutan mothers sustain lactation over multiple periods of food scarcity, providing a stable, but relatively low, lactation effort over many years, more and more supplemented by the offspring’s own food acquisition. In our long-term project we monitor the changes in the mother-offspring relationships from birth to adulthood in relation to the development of ecological and social competence of immatures.