My research generally revolves around the evolution of social behaviour. I currently focus on vocal communication, male and female sexual strategies and decision making in primates.
Baboons are the main subject of my research as they provide a good model to investigate how phylogeny, social system and habitat interact to shape the structure and usage of vocalisations. This work will shed some light on how evolutionary constraints and behavioural plasticity shape primate vocal communication.
My PhD thesis investigates the role of female copulation calls in chacma and hamadryas baboons.
This study aims to explore the adaptive significance of female baboon copulation calls through careful analysis of the temporal and spectral properties of these vocalizations in relation to their behavioural correlates. Copulation calls will be recorded from two populations of baboons: first, chacma baboons in the de Hoop Nature Reserve in South Africa, and second, hamadryas baboons in the Awash National Park, Ethiopia. This comparative approach will not only elucidate the functional significance of female baboon copulation calls across Papio but will also contribute to a broader understanding of the differences among baboon subspecies in their social organization, vocalizations, and reproductive strategies.
This project aims to elucidate and explain the role of follower males in hamadryas social organization on both proximate and ultimate levels and from the perspectives of various members of hamadryas society. Hamadryas baboons are unique among primates in having a multi-tiered society in which leader males aggressively herd females into one-male units (OMUs). Some OMUs also include follower males, males who consistently associate with a particular OMU. Within this system, it is not clear how follower males benefit from their role nor why leader males tolerate them in their OMUs. It is also not clear how females benefit from the presence of follower males, if at all. Whether leaders and followers are close relatives is not known, though it has been speculated that they are half siblings and that they both benefit from this relationship via shared genes. This project aims to address the following central question: What is the role of follower males in hamadryas baboon social organization? We are approaching this question from the follower male's perspective, from the leader male's perspective, and from the female's perspective. Using behavioral, genetic, and hormonal data, we are examining the fitness benefits of being a follower male as well as the implications of the presence of followers for other members of hamadryas OMUs. In addition, we aim to describe the relationship between leader males and their followers and characterize the life history trajectory of males before, during, and after they are followers. Results of this study will fill a crucial gap in our understanding of hamadryas society as well as that of other one-male group living primates, especially those with multiple levels of society such as geladas and snub-nosed monkeys.
The baboons of the Cape Peninsula are unique in that the sex ratios in most troops are highly skewed towards females. Males are more likely to explore areas inhabited by humans and engage in risky behaviours such as raiding, and so are more likely than females to die from unnatural causes. As a consequence, most troops in the Peninsula contain far fewer males than would be the norm for chacma baboons
A comparison between Cape Peninsula chacma baboons and other baboon populations may thus be particularly revealing. Like other chacma baboons, Peninsula baboons live in multi-male, multi-female groups with relatively unstructured relationships between females and males. However, like hamadryas baboons and highland chacmas, several troops in the Peninsula in fact have only one adult male. This begs the question of how females respond to this skewed social structure. Do female baboons in the Cape Peninsula use the same behavioural strategies as other lowland chacma baboons, or have they adapted their behaviour to accommodate the artifically-imposed one-male social structure? A comparison of how the one-male group structure changes female behaviour and reproduction can shed light on reproductive strategies of male and female baboons. It will also inform us about baboon flexibility in general, which has far-reaching scientific and management implications