Senior Scientist (W2) - Research Group Leader
Taï Chimpanzee Project
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Departments of Primatology & Human Behavior, Ecology and Culture
Deutscher Platz 6
D-04103 Leipzig, Germany
phone: +49 341 3550 204
fax: +49 341 3550 299
e-mail: wittig@[>>> Please remove the brackets! <<<]eva.mpg.de
Director, Taï Chimpanzee Project, Côte d'Ivoire
Co-Initiator of the Evolution of Brain Connectivity Project
Member of DFG Researcher Unit: Sociality and Health in Primates (SoHaPi)
Symposium: 40 years of Research at the Taï Chimpanzee Project (29 - 31 May 2019 at MPI EVA, Leipzig, Germany)
Symposium: Brain and Behavioural Evolution in Primates (25 - 29 Sep 2019 at the Centre for Scientific Culture, Erice, Sicily, Italy)
Together with my co-PI Dr. Catherine Crockford and my research group, I investigate the costs and benefits of group living and close social bonds in wild chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and other non-human primates, in particular bonobos (Pan paniscus), chacma baboons (Papio ursinus) and sooty mangabeys (Cercocebus atys). We examine the underpinning hormonal mechanisms and cognitive adaptations that lead to higher net-benefits and how this translates into life history. We want to understand how individuals benefit from close social bonds and how these bonds affect cooperation, prosocial behaviour and theory of mind.
The ultimate goal of our research is to better understand the evolution of human social organization, cooperation, cognition, culture and communication within an ecological framework by investigating the roots of these adaptations in humans’ closest living relatives.
Follow our research on twitter: @TaiChimpProject
To reach our goal we compare chimpanzees with other primates on six different levels:
- Comparing between four neighboring groups in chimpanzees (Taï, Côte d’Ivoire)
- Comparing between two neighboring groups in bonobos (Kokolopori, DRC)
- Comparing between the chimpanzee subspecies (in collaboration: P.t.v. Taï Chimpanzee Project, P.t.t. Loango Ape Project, Gabon, P.t.s. Budongo Conservation Field Station and Ngogo Chimpanzee Project, both Uganda).
- Comparing between Pan species (in collaboration: P.t. Budongo, Goualougo, Loango, Ngogo, Taï; P.p. Kokolopori, Lomako, LuiKotale)
- Comparing between Pan and Homo (in collaboration: MPI EVA Department for Human Behavioral Ecology and Department for Human Evolution)
- Comparing between Hominini (Homo + Pan) and other old world monkeys (e.g. sooty mangabey and chacma baboon)
We are using field experiments to probe the animal mind (Zuberbühler & Wittig 2011) and established a wide range of experimental techniques with chimpanzees:
- Playback experiments: simulating group member communication (e.g. Wittig, Crockford et al. 2007a,b, 2014; Crockford, Wittig et al. 2015) and violation of expectation paradigms (Crockford, Wittig et al. 2007), with one and two speakers (Crockford, Wittig, et al. 2007), and also with drumming simulations (Wittig, Crockford et al. 2016).
- Object presentation: presenting snake models (Crockford, Wittig et al. 2012, 2017) to a variety of species.
- Multimodal experiments: combining object presentations with playback stimuli to manipulate the social environment (Crockford, Wittig et al. 2017).
We use non-invasive methods to investigate hormone patterns and have developed methods to relate urinary hormone levels to specific interactions:
- Oxytocin and glucocorticoid levels in urine and feces: Hormone analysis from non-invasive samples (Crockford, Wittig et al. 2008, 2013; Wittig, Crockford et al. 2008, 2014)
- Event sampling: Relating urinary cortisol (Wittig, Crockford et al. 2015, 2016) and oxytocin levels to specific behaviors (Crockford, Wittig et al. 2013; Wittig, Crcokford et al. 2014; Samuni et al. 2017, 2018, Preis et al. 2018).
We are habituating a fourth neighboring group in Tai and follow all of them every day, collecting focal animal behavior, group composition data, feeding data, vocalizations, GPS track logs and health data.
Members of the Wittig & Crockford Lab (from left to right): Roman Wittig, Sylvain Lemoine, Virgile Manin, Patrick Tkaczynski, Catherine Crockford, Kathrin Kopp, Aisha Bründl, Cedric Girard-Buttoz.
Missing and in the field are: Tatiana Bortolato, Clement Gba (Abidjan), Mathilde Grampp (Tai), Tobias Gräßle (Berlin), Mathieu Malherb (Tai), Christelle Nihouarn (Tai), Kamilla Pleh (Berlin), Prince Vale (Abidjan).
Members of the Wittig & Crockford Lab winter 2018/2019 Last row (from left to right): Cedric Girard-Buttoz, Catherine Crockford, Roman Wittig, Alexander Mielke, Prince Vale, Janette Gleiche. Middle row (from left to right): Sylvain Lemoine, Liran Samuni, Anna Preis, Kayla Kolff, Frauke Olthoff. Front row (from left to right): Patrick Tkaczynski, Erin Wessling, Virgile Manin.
In the field: Tatiana Bortolato, Mathilde Grampp, Mathieu Malherbe, Penelope Carlier
(missing: Clement Gba, Doris Wu, Ruth Sonnweber)
Members of the Wittig & Crockford Lab summer 2017 (starting from left): Janette Gleiche, Frauke Olthoff, Ramona Beuth, Clement Gba, Alexander Mielke, Roman Wittig, Catherine Crockford, Cedric Girard-Buttoz, Doris Wu, Isaac Schamberg (guest), Sylvain Lemoine.
In the field: Pawel Fedurek, Virgile Manin, Kamilla Pleh, Patrick Tkaczynski, Prince Vale
(missing: Therese Löhrich, Anna Preis, Liran Samuni, Ruth Sonnweber)
Members of the Wittig & Crockford Lab summer 2016 (starting from left): Veronika Beeck, Anna Preis, Pawel Fedurek, Patrick Tkaczynski, Catherine Crockford, Roman Wittig, Cedric Girrard-Buttoz, Liran Samuni.
In the field: Alexander Mielke, Therese Löhrrich, Sylvain Lemoine, Clement Gba, Ruth Sonnweber, Doris Wu.
Post-doc Evolution of Brain Connectivity
Assessing social cognition and communication development and capacities in wild chimpanzees
Post-doc Evolution of Brain Connectivity
Assessing cognitive and social plasticity in chimpanzees and bonobos across European Zoos
Post-doc Ape Attachment
The influence of hormonal variation on social bonding capacities in chimpanzees
PhD project: Communicative development of wild chimpanzees
PhD project: Food competition and sociality in mangabeys
PhD project: Intergroup relationships between four neighbouring chimpanzee communities
PhD project: Behaviuoral varaition and culture in 4 neighbouring communities of chimpanzees
PhD project: Link among sociality, oxytocin, glucocorticoids and health in wild chimpanzees
PhD project: Localizing an infective source in the Taï National Park
|since 2019||Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (D), Departments of Primatology & Human Behavior, Ecology and Culture, Scientific Staff|
|since 2013||Head of Max Planck Research Group, Taï Chimpanzee Project, Senior Scientist (W2)|
|2011 – 2019||Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (D), Department of Primatology, Scientific Staff|
|2008 – 2011||University of St Andrews (UK), School of Psychology, Research Fellow|
|2004 – 2008||University of Pennsylvania (USA), Department of Biology, Research Fellow|
|since 2018||Editorial Board member of American Journal of Primatology|
|2014 - 2017||Member of the Human Sciences Section of the Scientific Council of the Max Planck Society|
|2004||University of Leipzig (D) & Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (D), Dr. rer. nat. in Biology (Supervisor: Christophe Boesch, Co-referees: Frans de Waal, Peter Kappeler)|
|1996||University of Bielefeld (D), Diplom in Biology (Supervisor: Hubert Hendrichs, Co-referee: Jürgen Döhl)|
|Since 2013||Director of the Taï Chimpanzee Project (Côte d’Ivoire)|
Full responsibility for the Taï Chimpanzee Project in Côte d’Ivoire.
|2008 – 2010||Budongo Conservation Field Station, Budongo Forest (Uganda), Assistant Director|
Studying the chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) of the Sonso community for 2½ years, conducting field experiments (playback and object presentation), behavioural observations, urine collection for hormonal analysis and fecal collection for genetic analysis.
|2004 – 2005||Babooncamp, Okavango Delta (Botswana), Post-doc Researcher|
Studying Chacma baboons (Papio hamadryas ursinus) at the long-term study site of Dorothy Cheney and Robert Seyfarth for 1½ years, conducting playback experiments and fecal collection for hormonal analysis.
|1996 – 1999||Taï Chimpanzee Project, Taï National Park (Côte d’Ivoire), Camp Manager|
Studying the chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes verus) of the North community for 3 years, conducting behavioural observations for my PhD thesis.
NEW international Master course: Integrative Biology, University Leipzig Block module: Cognitive Ethology in Primates
Lecturer, Master of Science in Biology, University of Leipzig Course: Bridge Seminar - Social intelligence
|since 2011||Coordinator & lecturer, International Max Planck Research School for Human Origins Course: Comparative and Molecular Primatology|
|2011||Substitute lecturer, School of Psychology, University of St Andrews|
Module: Evolutionary and Comparative Psychology
|2018||Duke University, Durham, NC (USA), Department for Evolutionary Anthropology, Seminar Hare Group|
|Naturhistorisches Museum, Wien (A), Talk Series in relation to the exhibition: War.|
|2017||African Primatological Society, Plenary Keynote at the Inaugural Conference in Abidjan / Bingerville (CIV)|
|Georg August University & German Primate Center, Göttingen (D), Colloquium Series: Understanding Social Relationships.|
|2016||Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago (USA), Keynote on Social Living - Chimpanzee in Context, 'Understanding Chimpanzees' Symposium Series|
|International Society for Anthrozoology, Plenary Keynote - ISAZ Meeting 2016, Barcelona (E)|
|2015||Wuppertaler Zoogespräche (D), Bergische Universität Wuppertal, Philosophisches Seminar|
|Konrad Lorenz Institut für Vergleichende Verhaltensforschung, Wien (A), Wilhelminenberg Seminar|
Université de Neuchâtel (CH), Department of Comparative Cognition, Group Seminar
|2014||Society for Tropical Ecology, Plenary Keynote - Conference of the Society for Tropical Ecology, Munich (D)|
Lorentz Center Leiden (NL), Workshop: Obstacles and Catlysts of Peaceful Behavior
|2012||Université de Rennes (F), Department of Animal and Human Ethology, Ethos Seminar|
|2011||University of Stirling (UK), School of Nature Sciences, Behavioural Ecology Research Group Seminar|
|University of Zürich (CH), Institute for Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, Behaviour Ecology Environment and Evolution Seminar.|
|2010||Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin (D), House Seminar|
|2007||Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago (USA), Chimpanzee Mind Conference, 'Understanding Chimpanzees' Symposium Series|
|2006||Emory University (USA),Yerkes Primate Research Centre, Living Links Colloquium|
|Harvard University (USA), Department of Anthropology, Anthropology Colloquium|
- Journals: American Journal of Primatology, Animal Behaviour, Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, Behaviour, Biology Letter, Current Biology, Hormones & Behavior, Human Evolution, International Journal of Primatology, Naturwissenschaften, Primates, Proceedings of the Royal Society London B, Science.
- Grant Bodies: Leakey Foundation, Wenner-Gren Foundation
- Symposium: 40 Years of Taï Chimpanzee Project, 29 - 31 May 2019, MPI EVA, Germany.
- XIV Conference of the Gesellschaft für Primatologie, 11 - 13 Feb 2015, MPI EVA & University of Leipzig, Germany
- Great Ape Health Workshop – International Conference on the Health Threat for Great Apes in Research and Tourist Sites, 21 – 24 Aug 2009, LAICO Lake Victoria Hotel, Entebbe, Uganda.
- Consultant for the exhibition 'WAR - KRIEG'. Landesmuseum für Vorgeschichte Halle, Halle (D).
- Consultant on baboon behaviour for the BBC Natural History Series ‘Planet Earth’ (2005-2007).
- Consultant on ape behaviour and evolution for the exhibition ‘Mensch und Tier: eine paradoxe Beziehung’ (2002-2003). Deutsches Hygienemuseum, Dresden (D).
- Consultant on chimpanzee conservation for the exhibition ‘Gorillas in the soup’ (2000-2001). Bushmeat crisis campaign of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EU).
|1998||Ethologische Gesellschaft e.V.|
|1995||International Primatological Society & Deutsche Gesellschaft für Primatologie|
|2018||Member and Co-initiator of the Max Planck Synergy Research Group Evolution of Brain Connectivuty (Max Planck Society)|
|2016||Nominated participation in the German American Frontiers of Science Symposium (Humboldt-Foundation and National Science Foundation USA)|
|2015||Invitation to join the DFG Researcher Consortium: The oxytocin system of the socio-emotional brain (invited by Dr. Valary Grinavich, University of Heidelberg, GER)|
|2014||Member of the DFG Researcher Consortium: Sociality and Health in Primates (SoHaPi)|
|2012||Young Investigator award of the Society of Behavioral Neuroendocrinology (jointly with Catherine Crockford)|
|2010||Invited Guest of the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin|
|2006||Research Fellow of the German Science Foundation (DFG) for two years|
|2004||Conference Grant of the German Science Foundation (DFG)|
|2019||PI on Research Grant: Presidential Funds of the Max Planck Society: Evolution of Brain Connectivity (total: € 1.627.000)|
|2017||PI on Research Grant: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft - SOHAPI in collaboration with RKI (total: € 450.000)|
|2016||Co-PI to ERC starting grant Ape Attachment of C. Crockford (total: € 1.500.000)|
|2015||PI on Research Grant: Wenner-Gren Foundation in collaboration with A. Mielke & C. Crockford: US$ 6000|
|2014||Co-PI on Research Grant: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft - SOHAPI in collaboration with RKI: € 230.000|
|2013||Co-PI Conservation Grant: European Association of Zoos and Aquaria in collaboration with RKI, WWF & Zoo Leipzig: € 21.000|
|2013||PI on Research Grant: Leakey Foundation in collaboration with A. Preiss & C. Crockford: US$ 12.800|
|2009||Co-PI on Research Grant: Wenner-Gren Foundation together with C. Crockford, T. Deschner, T. Ziegler & K. Zuberbuhler: US$ 25.000|
|2009||Co-PI on Research Grant: Leakey Foundation in collaboration with C. Crockford, T. Deschner & K. Zuberbuhler: US$ 22.500|
|2006||Post-doc fellow grant: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft|
The Taï Chimpanzee Project (Taï National Park, Côte d'Ivoire) has yielded unprecedented insights into the nature of cooperation, cognition, and culture in one of our closest living relatives. Founded in 1979 by Christophe and Hedwige Boesch, the project has entered its 40th year of continuous research. Alongside other famous long-term chimpanzee study sites at Gombe and Mahale in East Africa, the tireless work of the team at Taï has contributed to the fields of behavioural ecology and anthropology as well as improving public awareness of the urgent need this already critical endangered species. Encompassing important research topics including chimpanzeeecology, reproductive behaviour, tool use, culture, communication, cognition, and conservation, this book provides an engaging account of how Taï Chimpanzees are adapted to African jungle life and how they developed unique forms of cooperation with less violence, regular adoptions and complex cultural differences between groups.
Samuni, L. et al. (2016). Oxytocin reactivity during intergroup conflict in wild chimpanzees (advance online). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Video Intergroup encounters with subtitles in Taï chimpanzees (filmed by Liran Samuni, ©Taï Chimpanzee Project)
Wittig, R.M., Crockford, C. et al. (2016). Social support reduces stress hormone levels in wild chimpanzees across stressful events and everyday affiliations. Nature Communications: 13361
Video 1 Intergoup encounters in Taï chimpanzees (filmed by Liran Samuni, ©Taï Chimpanzee Project)
Wittig, R. M., Crockford, C. et al. (2014). Food sharing is linked to urinary oxytocin levels and bonding in related and unrelated wild chimpanzees. Proc. R. Soc. B: 281: 20133096.
Video 1Passive food sharing: Kwera and Kwezi share the pith of a raphia tree in Budongo forest (filmed by Roman Wittig)
Video 2Active food sharing: Kato shares meat with Hawa in Budongo forest (filmed by Cat Hobaiter)
Video 3Freddy shares actively honey with Athos (East Group, Tai Chimpanzee Project, filmed by Liran Samuni)
Crockford, C., Wittig, R. M. et al. (2012). Wild chimpanzees inform ignorant group members of danger. Curr. Biol. 22, 142-146.
Video 1 Kato discovers the snake model and warns Nick, who stops walking (fimed in Budongo forest by Roman Wittig).
Berliner Zeitung, 17 Juni 2020: Auch Menschenaffen müssen vor Corona geschützt werden - Apes need protection from corona virus (article)
Die Zeit, 27 May 2020: Dossier zum Thema Vertrauen - Chimpanzees and the evolution of trust (article)
Die Zeit, 19 June 2019: Dossier zum Thema Macht - What Taï chimpanzees can teach us about the struggle for power (article)
Nature, 16 November 2017: Research highlights: Chimps give extra warning to buddies unaware of danger (article)
New Scientist, 26 February 2016: Bromance helps stressed out warring chimps to keep their cool - on our work about oxytocin (article)
Science Magazine, 2 April 2010: Talking chimp to chimp – Review of our work in Budongo Forest Uganda (pdf)
Nature, 18 September 2014: Animal Behaviour: The evolutionary roots of lethal aggression. Commentary by Joan B. Silk (pdf)
Nature, 17 April 2014: Evolutionary Biology: Dating chimpanzees. Commentary by M. Haslam (pdf)
Current Biology, 24 January 2012: Animal Cognition: Chimpanzee alarm calls depend on what others know. Commentary by Robert M. Seyfarth & Dorothy L. Cheney (pdf)
Current Biology, 10 August 2010: Primatology: “A faithful friend is the medicine of life”. Commentray by Susan C. Alberts (pdf)
Persistent anthrax as a major driver of wildlife mortality in a tropical rainforest. Nature, 2017. 2 August 2017: Nature, Science, The Atlantic. 5 August 2017: Stuttgarter Zeitung. 7 August 2017: Science alert.
Oxytocin reactivity during intergroup conflict in wild chimpanzees. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 2017. 27 December 2016: Phys.org, Natural Science News, Neurosciencenews.com. 28 December 2016: Fromthegrapevine.com. 6 January 2017: New Scientist.
Social support reduces stress hormone levels in wild chimpanzees across stressful events and everyday affiliations. Nature Communications, 2016. 1 Nov 2016: The Conservation, Daily Mail. 2 Nov 2016: Christian Science Monitor, The Independent, Newsweek, Nature Asia. During Nov 2016: Science Daily, Los Angeles Times.
Lethal aggression in Pan is better explained by adaptive strategies than human impacts. Nature, 2014. 17 Sep 2014: Die Welt (link). 18 Sep 2014: AAAS News (link), New York Times (link), BBC News (link).
Food sharing is linked to urinary oxytocin levels and bonding in related and unrelated wild chimpanzees. Proceedings of the Royal Society London B, 2014. 15 Jan 2014: Washington Post (link), Daily Mail (link), Tagesspiegel (link), Die Welt (link).
Urinary oxytocin and social bonding in related and unrelated wild chimpanzees. Proceedings of the Royal Society London B, 2013. 23 Jan 13: BBC Nature (link), Der Spiegel (link), 25 Jan 13: Leipziger Volkszeitung (link)
Wild chimpanzees inform ignorant group members of danger. Current Biology, 2012.
29 Dec 11: BBC Nature (link), The Guardian (link), Wiener Zeitung (link); 30 Dec 11: Bild der Wissenschaft (link), Hamburger Abendblatt (link), Süddeutsche Zeitung (link),USA Today (link); 4 Jan 12: Neue Züricher Zeitung (link)
The benefit of social capital: Close social bonds among female baboons enhance offspring survival. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 2009.
10 July 09 The Guardian (link)
Exhibition 'War - tracing an evolution'
From chimpanzee 'wars' to the battle of Lützen (Thirty Years' War)
- CAMP MANAGER / PHD POSITION: Taï Chimpanzee Project (DEADLINE: 10 DEC 2020) START: 1 JAN 2021
Applications under consideration
- Labortechniche/r Assistent/in (Dienstort Berlin): Projektstelle für max. 12 Monate
Outside MPI EVA (2018)
|Josep Call:||University of St Andrews, St Andrews, UK|
School of Psychology and Neuroscience
|Dorothy Cheney & Robert Seyfarth:||University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA|
Departments of Biology & Psychology
|Angela Friederici||MPI for Cognition and brain Sciences, Leipzig, GERDepartment for Neuropsychology|
|Cat Hobaiter:||University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, UK|
School of Psychology
|Peter Kappeler||German Primate Center / University of Göttingen, GER|
Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology
|Inza Kone:||Université de Cocody, Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire|
Centre Suisse des Recherches Scientifique
|Kevin Langergraber:||Arizona State University, Tampa, USA|
Department of Anthropology
|Lydia Luncz||Oxford University, Oxford, UK |
Primate Archaeology Group
|Fabian Leendertz:||Robert Koch Institute, Berlin, GER|
Project Group 3: Epidemiology of Highly Pathogenic Microorganisms
|Viktoria Oelze||University of California Santa Cruz, USA |
Department of Anthropology
|Julia Ostner & Oliver Schülke||University of Göttingen, Göttingen, GER|
|Simone Pika||University of Osnabrück, GER|
Institute of Cognitive Science
|Jill Pruetz:||Iowa State University, Ames, USA|
Department of Anthropology
|James Rilling||Emory University, Atlanta, USA|
|Joan Silk||Arizona State University, Tampa, USA|
Department of Anthropology
|Steven Smith||Veterinary University, Vienna, Austria|
Konrad Lorenz Institute for Comparative Ethology
|Nikolaus Weiskopf||MPI for Cognition and brain Sciences, Leipzig, GERDepartment for Neurophysiks|
|University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, USA Anthropology Department|
|Toni Ziegler:||University of Wisconcin, Madison, USA|
National Primate Research Centre
|Klaus Zuberbühler:||Université de Neuchâtel, Neuchâtel, CH|
Department of Comparative Cognition
Inside MPI EVA (2017)
Department of Primatology:
- Christophe Boesch
- Catherine Crockford
- Tobias Deschner
- Gottfried Hohmann
- Hjalmar Kühl
- Roger Mundry
- Martin Surbeck
- Linda Vigilant