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.