Direkt zur Hauptnavigation springen Direkt zum Inhalt springen Jump to sub navigation

Julia Mörchen

Position: PhD Student

Research Group "Primate Behavioural Ecology"
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Department of Primate Behavior and Evolution
Deutscher Platz 6
D-04103 Leipzig Germany


University of Leipzig Faculty of Life Science
Institute of Biology
Behavioral Ecology Research Group
Talstrasse 33
D-04103 Leipzig Germany

e-mail: julia.moerchen@[>>> Please remove the text! <<<]uni-leipzig.de


Research interests
Curriculum Vitae

Research interests

Throughout human history immigrants have always been drivers of cultural change, contributing to the diversity and formation of local cultures by transmitting new knowledge and skills. Nevertheless, xenophobic tendencies that prevent beneficial mutual exchange are on the rise. There is evidence that both tendencies, being tolerant as well as being xenophobe toward strangers, are as such deeply rooted in our evolutionary past. In my Ph.D. project, I aim to examine the evolutionary roots of the underlying behavioral adaptions of immigrants and locals to the consequences of migration, by using the highly cultural and socially tolerant Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) as a model species. We will investigate the behavioural strategies locals and immigrants use to cope with the challenges of and at the same time make use of the benefits of migration in two closely located orangutan populations in the Gunung Leuser National Park in Sumatra, Indonesia. The two study populations show differences in their social tolerance and organization but are assumed to stand in regular exchange through dispersing immigrant males and are thus the ideal study system for this project. By combining behavioral and genetic data, this interdisciplinary study represents the most comprehensive approach to address the question whether cultural transmission follows the immigrant male dispersal pattern in Sumatran orangutans. The ultimate goal for this Ph.D. project is to examine how informational and social benefits drawn from tolerant cultural transmission between foreigners (social learning) affect individuals` survival and reproduction success. In that regard, using extant Asian great apes as a model species will shed light on which factors influenced cultural exchange, tolerance, and xenophobia during human evolution.

My study is conducted in collaboration with the nongovernmental organization FKL (“Forum Konservasi Leuser”) and the Evolutionary Genetics Group, Department of Anthropology, University of Zurich, Switzerland (Prof. Michael Krützen & Dr. Caroline Schuppli).

Curriculum Vitae


since 07/2018PhD student at the University of Leipzig in collaboration with the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig (MPI EVA) Dissertation title: “The good immigrant: Dispersing orangutan males as cultural vectors and the evolution of tolerance vs. xenophobia”
Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Anja Widdig (University of Leipzig), Prof. Dr. Michael Krützen (University of Zurich)
10/2013-10/2016Master of Science in Biology (with focus on Biodiversity & Ecology)
Thesis title: " Learning from the immigrants: Dispersing orangutan males as cultural vectors”
Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Jutta Schneider (University of Hamburg) & Prof. Dr. Carel van Schaik (University of Zurich)
10/2014-03/2015 Erasmus Mobility Student, University of Zurich, Switzerland
10/2010-10/2013Bachelor of Science in Biology
Thesis title: „ Effects of ageing in social interest in barbary macaques (Macaca sylvanus) – Testing prediction from socio-emotional selectivity theory“
Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Jutta Schneider (University of Hamburg) & Prof. Dr. Julia Fischer (German Primate Center, University of Göttingen).

Work experience

04/2017-12/2018Freelance Biologist, Agency for Environment and Energy of the City of Hamburg, Department of Conservation
07/2017Freelance Biologist, “Hadabuan Hills” Expedition, North Sumatra, Indonesia
11/2017-12/2017 Scientific advisor GEO Magazine, Reportage on Culture in Sumatran Orangutans, Sumatra, Indonesia
12/2017 Freelance Biologist, NGO “Lebenraum Regenwald e.V.”, in collaboration with BOSF Bornean Orangutan Survival Foundation
02/2014-12/2014Freelance Biologist, Agency for Environment and Energy of the City of Hamburg, Department of Conservation
04/2011-07/2011Research assistant, Bio Center Klein Flottbek, University of Hamburg, Germany, Course “Biodiversity of plants”


Mörchen, J., Luhn, F., Wassmer, O., Kunz, J., Kulik, L., van Noordwijk, M., van Schaik, C., Rianti, P., Atmoko, S. S. U., Widdig, A., & Schuppli, C. (2023). Migrant orangutan males use social learning to adapt to new habitat after dispersal. Frontiers Ecology And Evolution, 11.
Open Access    DOI    BibTeX   Endnote   

Ehmann, B., van Schaik, C. P., Ashbury, A. M., Mörchen, J., Musdarlia, H., Utami Atmoko, S., van Noordwijk, M. A., & Schuppli, C. (2021). Immature wild orangutans acquire relevant ecological knowledge through sex-specific attentional biases during social learning. PLoS Biology, 19: e3001173.
Open Access    DOI    BibTeX   Endnote   

Gruber, T., Luncz, L. V., Mörchen, J., Schuppli, C., Kendal, R. L., & Hockings, K. (2019). Cultural change in animals: A flexible behavioural adaptation to human disturbance. Palgrave Communications, 5: 9.
Open Access    DOI    BibTeX   Endnote   

Meeting Abstracts

Mörchen, J., van Noordwijk, M.A. & van Schaik, C.P. (2017). “Learning from the immigrants: dispersing orangutan males as cultural vectors”, EFP conference, University of Strasbourg, France, Invited culture symposium talk.

Mörchen, J., van Noordwijk, M.A. & van Schaik, C.P. (2017). “Learning from the immigrants: dispersing orangutan males as cultural vectors”, GFP conference, University of Zurich, Switzerland.

Brandão, S.N. & Mörchen, J. (2012). “Small animals for understanding big biodiversity questions - A morphometric study for species concept within Southern Ocean Ostracods”, From Knowledge to Action Conference, International Polar Year, Montreal, Canada.