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Madita Zetzsche

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 


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

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

Research interests

Female primates versatilely advertise their reproductive state using different sensory modalities, yet research in this context has traditionally focused on visual fertility signals. The exact timing of ovulation, however, might not always be precisely reflected in these signals. Olfactory cues, in this context, may provide additional information on the female reproductive state, but olfaction in great apes is still scarcely studied. I aim to investigate the chemical composition of female body odour in humans (Homo sapiens) and Western chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) to better understand its role in their fertility advertisement. Therefore, I will collect cycle-related body odour samples using thermal desorption tubes, as a method novel to study mammalian body odour, to capture airborne volatile organic compounds which will be complemented by hormonal data on menstrual cycle stages and quality.

Curriculum Vitae


since 10/2018PhD student at Leipzig University in collaboration with the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig (MPI EVA) Dissertation title: "The role of chemical cues for advertising female fertility in primates" Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Anja Widdig (Leipzig University)
10/2015-09/2018Master of Science in Biology (with focus on Neurobiology and Behaviour) Thesis title: "Chemical communication of reproductive state in chimpanzees" Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Anja Widdig and Dr. Brigitte Schlögl (Leipzig University)
10/2012-09/2015Bachelor of Science in Biology
Thesis title: "Female signalling during courtship in the zebra finch" Supervisors: Prof. Constance Scharff Ph.D and PD Dr. Henrike Hultsch (Freie Universität Berlin)

Work experience

01/2017-07/2017Research assistant at Leipzig University; Assisting in sampling mammalian body odour and in tutoring courses in BSc. Biology
01/2016-09/2016Student assistant at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and the WKPRC in Leipzig; Behavioural observations of non-human great apes as well as assisting in cognitive tests
10/2012-07/2013Student assistant at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization in Göttingen; Analysis of social behavioural pattern and social network of killer whale pods located in Northern Norway under the supervision of Dr. Heike Vester and Prof. Dr. Marc Timme
2007-2017Field assistant at Ocean Sounds in Northern Norway (part-time); Assisting in collecting and analysing sound recordings of killer whales and other whale species as well as behavioural assays of different killer whale pods under the supervision of Dr. Heike Vester

Grants Awarded

05/2018Contribution to a research grant by The Leakey Foundation (PI Anja Widdig) on the project "Chemical cues for advertising female fertility in primates" (25000.00 Euro)
04/2017Research Grant for young researchers of the Ethology Society (480 Euro)


In press

Zetzsche, M., Weiß, B., Kücklich, M., Stern, J., Birkemeyer, C., Widdig, A. ǂ., & Penke, L. (in press). Combined perceptual and chemical analyses show no compelling evidence for ovulatory cycle shifts in women's axillary adour. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.


Jänig, S. *., Kücklich, M. *., Kulik, L., Zetzsche, M., Weiß, B. M. ǂ., & Widdig, A. ǂ. (2022). Olfactory inspection of female reproductive states in chimpanzees. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 10: 884661.
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