15.04.2021 - 02:15
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Department of Human Behavior, Ecology and Culture

Deutscher Platz 6
04103 Leipzig

phone: +49 (0)341 3550 - 315
fax: +49 (0)341 3550 - 333

e-mail: cissewski@eva.mpg.de

Martin Surbeck


Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Department of Human Behavior, Ecology and Culture
Deutscher Platz 6
D-04103 Leipzig, Germany

Director, Kokolopori Bonobo Research Project, DRC

Affiliated with Bonobo Conservation Initiative

E-mail: surbeck@[>>> Please remove the brackets! <<<]eva.mpg.de

Research Interests
Curriculum Vitae

Current research

Reproductive strategies are believed to be one of the major forces that shape the variability we observe in social organization among mammals. My research focuses on mechanisms of male mate competition in bonobos and its implications for the social relationships among males and between the sexes. The aim of current studies is to elucidate the role of intra- and intersexual relationships in the contexts of competition and cooperation. Behavioural observations and corresponding endocrinological data are used to investigate underlying mechanisms of mate competition and male mating strategies in relation to social parameters such as age, dominance status, and kinship.

In the beginning of 2016 I established a new bonobo research site at Kokolopori in collaboration with Bonobo Conservation Initiative (BCI) and Vie Sauvage. Through insights from this new site I hope to contribute to a better understanding of behavioural diversity within bonobos. Currently we are able to follow two habituated neighboring bonobo communities daily. Given the existence of two habituated communities with high range overlap, initial research will focus on the study of the poorly understood intercommunity relationships in bonobos (research projects). This is done in collaboration with Barbara Fruth and Gottfried Hohmann (LuiKotale), Tobias Deschner, and the Centre de Surveillance de la Biodiversite at the University of Kisangani.

In addition to exploring these questions, my current work takes a more comparative approach, as I am convinced we can infer more about processes and selective pressures in our evolutionary past by comparing chimpanzees and bonobos, than by studying a single species. I collaborate with chimpanzees researchers such as Christophe Boesch (Taï), Kevin Langergraber (Ngogo) and Catherine Crockford (Budongo, Taï). Furthermore, I established with Roman Wittig (Budongo, Taï) and Cedric Girard-Buttoz an identical data collection protocol for the bonobo site, LuiKotale, and the chimpanzee site, Taï.

The work is currently supported by:

Curriculum Vitae

Professional and public service

Ad hoc reviewer:


  • Behaviour
  • Folia Primatologica
  • Behavioural Processes
  • Animal cognition
  • Animal Behaviour
  • Psychological Science
  • Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

Grant applications:

  • The Leakey Foundation (Award check no. 2507)
  • Basler Stiftung für biologische Forschung
  • Swiss National Science Foundation (PBSKP3_145844)
  • Wenner-Gren Foundation (Gr. 8914)
  • National Geographic Research Grant (GEFNE119-14)
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (GA1427)

Collaboration with visual artist Emanuel Mathias on a project named "The Primatologist archive"


2006 –2011PhD student at the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig
Dissertation title: Dominance, competition and cooperation in bonobos: a male perspective
2009Diploma in Secondary and Higher Education
2005Studies in Secondary and Higher Education
2003Diploma work at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore
Thesis title: Ovarian development, dominance and the determintion of future queens in a primitively eusocial wasp (Ropalidia marginata)
1999 –2002Studies in Zoology, University of Zürich
1996 –1998Basic Studies in Biology, University of Zürich

Work experience

2004Local administrator of MPI research field site in Kongo (DRC)
2005/06Biology teacher at KZO (Highschool Zürcher Oberland)
2003Field assistant for Uni Zürich and for Vogelwarte Sempach
Since 2003Group and school class guide for Zoo Zürich

Field experience

2004Field site administration, MPI for Evolutionary Anthropology
Dr. Fruth and Dr. Hohmann, Ethnobotany and Bonobos, Kongo (DRC)
2003Field assistance, Vogelwarte Sempach
Bird Migration across the Sahara, Mauretania
2003Field assistance, University of Zürich
Prof. U. Reyer, local adaptation in newt larvae, Switzerland
1998Field assistance, University of Zürich
Prof. Wehner, Navigation in Desert Ants, Tunisia


  • Förderpreis des Förderkreises des Deutschen Primatenzentrums


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Deshpande SA, Sumana A, Surbeck M, and Gadagkar R. (2006). Wasp who would be queen: A comparative study of two primitively eusocial species. Current Science 91(3):332-336.


Van Buskirk J, Muller C, Portmann A, and Surbeck M. (2002). A test of the risk allocation hypothesis: Tadpole responses to temporal change in predation risk. Behavioral Ecology 13(4):526-530.