Steffen Foerster

Senior Research Scientist
Department of Evolutionary Anthropology
Duke University
Room 206A, Biological Sciences Building
130 Science Drive
Durham, NC 27708

Tel: 919-660-7282

I have a long-standing interest in the behavioral ecology and neuroendocrinology of nonhuman primates. My expanding research program aims to transcend traditional subject boundaries to gain new insights into the processes underlying social evolution. Specifically, I examine the cost/benefit tradeoffs in social behavior in free-living populations to answer questions such as: What drives evolutionary change in primate social behavior? How are the costs and benefits of sociality distributed among group members? Why do primates form close social bonds? How do anthropogenic changes to habitats influence primate social dynamics, health, and fitness?

To address these challenging questions, I combine detailed behavioral observations with diverse methodological approaches that include the non-invasive study of hormone-behavior interactions and parasite infections, novel field experiments, spatial modeling of ranging, habitat selection, and habitat quality, and social network analysis. I have worked with three very different examples of primate sociality: blue monkeys (Cercopithecus mitis), a female-philopatric forest guenon that forms one-male, multi-female social groups; chacma baboons (Papio ursinus), a highly adaptable female-philopatric species in which multiple adult males compete for mating opportunities in multi-female groups; and chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), which live in dynamic fission-fusion social groups where males are strictly philopatric and cooperatively defend the ranges of multiple females.

My current research projects include:

  • Baboons:
    • Social bonding and health: inferring causality through field experiments in baboons
    • Parasites, behavior, and the adaptive value of primate social structure
    • Adaptive value of personality variation: linking individual behavioral styles to potential fitness outcomes in multiple environments
  • Chimpanzees
    • Causes and consequences of social relationships in female chimpanzees
    • Small-scale variation in habitat quality and its influence on chimpanzee behavior
    • Comparative analysis of female chimpanzee social bonds across study sites
    • Assessing the structure and function of female chimpanzee social hierarchies

More information on a growing selection of these projects can be found in the Research Projects section.

If you are a student looking for research projects or field experience, or if you are interested in a potential collaboration, please do not hesitate to contact me.