Scientific background

I studied biology at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, focusing on animal physiology, anthropology and biophysics. I started work on nonhuman primates with experimental studies at the MPI for Psychiatry by exploring the physical configuration of vocal and visual signals used by squirrel monkeys (Saimiri sciureus). This work was followed by field studies on the vocal communication of sympatric species of macaques (Macaca silenus, M. radiata) and langurs (Presbythis johnii, P. entellus) in South India. The four species offer an interesting model as they differ in terms of their social systems and in their flexibility to adapt to environmental changes. This work was done in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Science (Bangalore) and led to my PhD at the LM-University Munich.

After finishing my PhD, I moved from the Max-Planck-Institute for Psychiatry to the Max Planck Research Centre for Human Ethology (1989-95). Here I started work on wild bonobos (Pan paniscus) at Lomako. This work was initially funded by  the MPI for Human Evolution and later by the MPI for Behavioral Physiology (1996-99). Since 1999, my research is hosted by the MPI for Evolutionary Anthropology. Studies at Lomako continued for eight years and produced the first information from fully habituated but unprovisioned bonobos. This included data on kin relationships of natural communities, the relation between kinship and social ties, and the first detailed information on hunting, meat eating and meat sharing by female bonobos highlighting the role of females in a domain that is usually considered to be dominated by males.

In 2002, a new study site was established for hosting long-term field research on bonobos at LuiKotale. This site is used jointly by the bonobo project and by a long-term project on  plant biodiversity directed by Barbara Fruth ( Initial studies of bonobos at LuiKotale have focused on a complex of related aspects such as feeding behaviour, food processing, nutritional ecology, and forest productivity. Following habituation of the members of one community to close range observations, various behavioural aspects are now being studied by post-docs, PhD and Master students. Meanwhile a second community tolerates the presence of humans which allows expanding research activities of this population.

Ongoing field studies combine behavioural observations with molecular genetics, behavioural physiology, and ecological data. Field work in Congo is complemented by a series of experimental studies on converging topics such as ontogeny, social and environmental stress, nutrition, and energy acquisition.