Experts in primate behaviour, welfare, ecology, evolution and conservation
We collaborate with national and international organisations
The Primatology Research Group is one of the largest primatology groups in the world and has a broad range of research expertise including primate behaviour, welfare, ecology, evolution and conservation. We are involved in research on primates in Tanzania, Sumatra, Sulawesi, Malaysia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Puerto Rico, South Africa, Germany and within the UK.
An orangutan sits on a railway line © Serge Wich.
LJMU primatologists are involved in conservation projects on all three continents where primates are found. Conservation is supported by conducting fundamental and applied research on primates ranging from monkey species to several of the great ape species. Much of the applied research concerns obtaining data on the distribution and density of several species in often remote areas and determining how primates are affected by changes in their habitat. This work can often demand trekking into isolated areas reachable by foot only (see photo), carrying equipment by hand into remote areas. In addition, LJMU staff are actively involved in collaborations with governments and non-governmental organisations to help shape conservation policy and support projects in various countries. They are also active members of the IUCN SSC Section on Great Apes and the GRASP Scientific Commission.
Male crested macaque giving a loud call and a sonogram of a loud call. © Antje Engelhardt.
Primates show a rich variation in their vocal communication. Vocalizations are well established in their role of coordinating group movement across primate species, vary between populations, and have implications for our understanding of language evolution. The research group use both active and passive acoustics to investigate the spatiotemporal patterns of loud calls, sexually selected vocal signals, and how nonhuman primate communication informs human language. This research involves several primate species such as the black macaque, chimpanzee, and the Sumatran and Bornean orangutan.
Vervet monkeys foraging in Simbithi, South Africa. © Nicola Koyama.
Nonhuman primates have a wide distribution throughout the tropical belt of our planet, with some exceptions occurring in somewhat drier zones. They inhabit parts of Africa, India, Southeast Asia, and South America and occur from sea-level to high altitudes. By that, they inhabit a variety of ecological environments, they usually share with other primate and non-primate species. At LJMU we investigate primate species and communities in their natural environments studying adaptations and investigate the selective pressures these adaptations may have undergone. We are interested in the environmental conditions under which primates have evolved and how these have shaped their social behaviour. Studying primate behavioural ecology implies the study of behavioural interactions between individuals and groups within their natural environment as well as with members of their own or other sympatric species. It focuses on how primate behaviour varies with respect to the ecological context and to what extent this behaviour in turn may account as direct or indirect driver of environmental and eventually, evolutionary change.
Social behaviour and cognition
A Japanese macaque mother grooms her daughter in the hills outside Kyoto, Japan. © Nicola Koyama.
Primates maintain a variety of social relationships that have fitness consequences. Within the Primatology Research Group we use both observational and experimental techniques, in the field and in captivity, to help us understand the factors that influence relationships and those that underpin social interactions, the function of relationships and the evolution of sociality. For example, we have investigated how individuals regulate their social relationships; tolerance, conflict and cooperation; social attention and cognitive biases for social information; adaptive benefits of relationships. Our research species include rhesus macaques, Japanese macaques, crested macaques, long-tailed macaques, Barbary macaques, samango monkeys, vervet monkeys and chimpanzees.
Attention bias testing, Cayo Santiago. © Alexander Georgiev.
The primate cognition and welfare lab develops cognitive measures of emotion and well-being in non-human primates. The lab is a leader in research into attention bias and cognitive bias in primates. The methods we work with are informed by research with humans showing that changes in emotion state are linked to changes in cognition, which can be measured using simple but effective cognitive tasks. We work with monkeys and apes in a range of settings including free-ranging (e.g. rhesus macaques on Cayo Santiago, Puerto Rico), in zoos (e.g. Crested macaques Darmstadt Vivarium), universities, breeding colonies and research facilities. Cognitive data are triangulated with behavioural, physiological, genetic and life history data to better inform our understanding of psychological well-being in primates and identify factors that underlie individual variability in psychological resilience to stress.
Team member at Macaca Nigra Project collects a faecal sample. © Antje Engelhardt.
Diseases are a serious threat for wild living primates, particularly great apes. Ebola and other outbreaks among great ape populations have identified diseases as major threat to our closest living relatives. Despite increasing interest across the recent past, knowledge about infectious diseases and transmission of pathogens in primates is still insufficient. Many factors contribute to the ability of infectious agents to cross species’ barriers. From the host, over the pathogen to the host-pathogen environments close examinations are required to better understand threats and their epidemiology. In addition to the zoonotic diseases in general, the question of how individuals within primate groups deal with parasites and pathogens is of high evolutionary importance. At LJMU we engage in interdisciplinary collaborations in order to identify health problems and transmission paths in our study populations and promote hygiene precautions at research sites in order to protect our species investigated. Moreover, we investigate individual health issues by endocrinological markers and relate their outcome to both social and environmental factors.
The Primatology Research Group has a wide range of collaborators including the following national and international organisations:
- Conservation Drones
- Primate Archaeology
- The Nature Conservancy/Tuungane
- The Jane Goodall Institute
- Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme
- Borneo Futures
- LEAP Project
- Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
- Chester Zoo
- Lajuma Research Centre
- Zoo Antwerp
- Welfare and Cognition Group, German Primate Centre, Gottingen University
Postgraduate (PhD) Students
2023-2026 Matt Gardiner: How socioecology shapes social phenotypes in young macaques
2018-2021 Mattia Bessone: Assessing the conservation status of the bonobo (Pan paniscus): a range-wide approach towards a new action plan
2018-2021 Mélodie Kreyer: Medicinal plant use by bonobos (Pan paniscus) in the Congo Basin, DRC and implication for conservation
2017-2020 Camille Giuliano: Seasonal responses to food and water scarcity associated with living in a savannah-woodland environment in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii). Implications for hominin adaptations to open habitats
2017-2020 James Waterman: Intra- and inter-group relations in Sulawesi crested black macaques
2017-2020 Anne-Sophie Crunchant: Communication and coordination: Remote acoustic monitoring and locating of chimpanzee vocalisations to reveal party movements
2017-2020 Russell Delahaunty: Using UAVS with multispectral sensors to assess ape habitats
2016-2019 Noemie Bonnin: Chimpanzee nest detection and distribution in Tanzania
2016-2019 Emmeline Howarth: Attention bias in non human primates
2016-2019 Simon Stringer: Seed dispersal & forest regeneration by three sympatric primates
2016-2019 Ed McLester: Shaped by the savannah: a comparison of intra-group strategies of coordination in savannah and forest-dwelling red-tailed monkeys (Cercopithecus ascanius)
2015-2018 Harriet Thatcher: Socio-ecology and anthropogenic disturbance in vervet monkeys
2015-2018 Ed Parker: Behavioural ecology of samango monkeys
2014-2017 John Abernethy: Nest preference and distribution in Sumatran orangutans
Facilities and field sites
World class lab facilities including GIS, genetics, state-of-the-art drone technology and bioacoustics.
A field-based research station situated in western Tanzania that hosts international scientists with an interest in primate behavioural ecology and conservation. Two modules across both Primate Behaviour and Conservation and Wildlife and UAV Technology MSc programmes are hosted there, with students learning field techniques and conducting independent studies. Dissertation fieldwork can also be conducted there for those students who are interested.
NC3Rs, EU-COST PrimTRAIN, the Primate Society of Great Britain, the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare, Laboratory Animals Science Association, National Science Foundation, Wenner Gren Foundation, Arcus Foundation, United States Fish and Wildlife Great Ape Fund, The Nature Conservancy, The Jane Goodall Institute, National Geographic Society, United Nations Environmental Programme, Denver Zoo, Philadelphia Zoo, Indianapolis Zoo, Chester Zoo.