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Department of Evolutionary Anthropology

  • Jupiter 097
  • MG Family
  • VNP RM
  • Pluton SB
  • MG SB Hirwa
  • MG Family 2

Primate Social Evolution

Our work focuses on examining the evolution of primate social behaviour using long term behavioural, demographic and hormonal data. We primarily work with data from wild gorilla populations, using gorillas as a comparative model to better understand the evolution of complex social behaviours in humans.Our main research topics are:

  1. the evolution of social systems
  2. the fitness consequences of social relationships within and between groups
  3. social change across the lifespan
  4. how social behaviour can inform conservation practice

This research group is funded by an SNSF Ambizione Research Fellowship (2023-2027) for the project “The evolution of social flexibility: investigating the adaptive origins and mechanistic underpinning of our flexible dispersal patterns”. Through collaboration with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, we will examine both how and why, humans’ unusually flexible dispersal patterns evolved.

Social environments can dramatically affect health and survival in social mammals, including humans, but in many societies, individuals have the capacity to shape these social environments through their social decisions. Changing social groups has one of the greatest impacts on an individual’s social environment. Humans show particular social flexibility, frequently moving between groups of variable characteristics, sizes and compositions. Through this project, we will examine the origins of this social flexibility using one of our closest evolutionary relatives: the mountain gorilla. We aim to:

  1. Examine the evolutionary benefits of this social flexibility, testing whether the flexibility to change social groups enables individuals to maximize their fitness.
  2. Examine how individuals identify which social groups to change to.
  3. Examine the role of the stress response in the process of changing groups.