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Contact

Department of Primatology

Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Deutscher Platz 6
04103 Leipzig

phone: +49 (0)341 3550 - 200
fax: +49 (0)341 3550 - 299


Martha M. Robbins

Research Scientist

Department of Primatology
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Deutscher Platz 6
04103 Leipzig
Germany

Phone: +49 (341) 3550-0
E-mail: robbins@[>>> Please remove the brackets! <<<]eva.mpg.de

Research Interests
Curriculum Vitae
Media
​​​​​​​Publications

Research Interests

My overarching research interest is the evolution of sociality.  For over 25 years, my research has focused on the causes and consequences of sociality in one of our closest relatives, the gorilla.   There are two species of gorillas and four subspecies. Gorillas are a particularly interesting species because they occupy a wide range of habitats across Africa and exhibit variation in their social structure, feeding ecology, and life history patterns. I am examining topics related to gorillas’ ecology, social behavior, reproductive strategies, population dynamics, endocrinology, and genetics.

I started my research career in the early 1990’s at the Karisoke Research Center, Rwanda, where I conducted my PhD research on the mountain gorillas initially habituated by Dian Fossey in the late 1960’s. In 1998, I began my ongoing long-term research project in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda, where I am studying the other population of mountain gorillas. This is the second longest running research project on habituated gorillas in Africa. In 2005, I began a long-term project of western gorillas in Loango National Park, Gabon, where we are studying one group of habituated western gorillas. It has been a wonderful experience to observe habituated gorillas over such a long time period and in so many different forests inhabited by gorillas. It is also important to conduct research that can contribute to conservation efforts to protect these critically endangered great apes.

Specific topics include:    

Feeding Ecology:  How does the diet of gorillas vary according to food availability?  How does food availability influence ranging patterns and habitat utilization?  

Reproductive Strategies and Social Behavior:  What strategies are used by males and females to maximize their reproductive success?  How do dispersal patterns influence social behavior and group dynamics?  How do ecological conditions influence social relationships?  How do social relationships vary among males and females?   

Population Dynamics:  How do populations change in size and structure over time?  How do particular factors influence the changes in a population, in particular, the ecological conditions, levels of human disturbance, as well as intrinsic factors?  How do life history variables differ among individuals and what impact does this have on reproductive success?  

Genetics:  In collaboration with the genetics lab of our department, we are able to address questions concerning paternity, relatedness, as well as group size and structure.  

Conservation: While science alone will not lead to protection of endangered gorillas, research should be an integrated part of any conservation strategy. Any research on endangered species should involve a conservation component.  Therefore, I have collaborated with conservation groups working in the Virunga Volcanoes and Bwindi to carry out censuses of the gorillas so we can effectively monitor changes in their population size and the impacts of conservation strategies.  Additionally, we conduct projects concerning their demography and patterns of habitat utilization, which provide useful information to assist with park management practices.  I also run a collaborative conservation education program (the Bwindi Ape Conservation Education Partnership, with the North Carolina Zoo and the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo) in which we work with four primary schools bordering Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda.    

Curriculum Vitae

Education

  • Ph.D. - Zoology, University of Wisconsin, May 1996.
  • M.S. - Zoology, University of Wisconsin, Madison, December 1993.
  • B.S. - Biology and Psychology (double major), University of South Carolina, May 1989

Academic Employment

1998-presentResearch Associate, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
1997-1998Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of Biology, Gustavus Adolphus College
1995-1997Lecturer, Depts of Psychology, Zoology, & Anthropology, University of Wisconsin

Management Experience

1998-presentLeader of the Gorilla Research Group in the Department of Primatology,
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
1998-presentDirector of long term research project of mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda.
2005-2014 Co-director of Loango Ape Project, Loango National Park, Gabon.
2014-present Director of Loango Gorilla Project, Loango National Park, Gabon.
2008-present

Established a conservation education program,’ Bwindi Ape Conservation Education Partnership’, with four primary schools, Ruhija District, Uganda

Established collaborative research projects with several NGO’s, research institutions, and national park services including:
  • Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International
  • International Gorilla Conservation Program
  • Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Program
  • Mbeli Bai Gorilla Project
  • Bai Hokou Gorilla Program. 

Teaching Experience

2007-present Lecturer, International Max Planck Research School for Human Origins
1997-1998Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, MN
Taught four upper level courses: Animal Behavior, Evolution, Ecology, & Conservation Biology
Taught one introductory level course: “Evolution, Ecology, & Behavior”
1995-1997University of Wisconsin, WI, USA
Designed and taught the following courses:  ‘Comparative Perspectives on Social Behavior’, ‘Ethology’, and ‘Primate Behavioral Ecology’

Organized and taught the following to national park staff and conservation partners:

July 2016Basics of Mountain Gorillas - Training Workshop, Ruhija, Uganda.
March 2009 Gorilla Behavior and Habituation -Training Workshop, Ruhija, Uganda.
June 2008Gorilla Behavior and Tourism -Training Workshop, Ruhija, Uganda.
January 2008Gorilla Behavior - Training Workshop, Muzanzi, Rwanda.
June 2008Gorilla Behavior and Tourism -Training Workshop, Ruhija, Uganda.
November 2007 Gorilla Demography - Training Workshop, Musanze, Rwanda.

Grants & Awards

2016-2017 United States Fish & Wildlife Service Great Ape Conservation Fund
‘Research as a component of tourism development for Western Gorillas in Loango National Park, Gabon’
$92,450
2016-2017 Tusk Trust,
Conservation and Research of Western Gorillas in Loango National Park,
$25,000
2015-2016 Tusk Trust
Conservation and Research of Western Gorillas in Loango National Park, Gabon
$23,250
2010-2016 Berggorilla Regenwald Direkthlife/Mondberge
Conservation Education Program for four primary schools neighbouring Bwindi Annual contribution of € 7,000
2015 Berggorilla Regenwald Direkthilfe
Renovation of research camp in Loango National Park, Gabon
€ 20,000
2015-2016 United States Fish & Wildlife Service Great Ape Conservation Fund
‘Conservation, Research and Tourism of Critically Endangered Western Gorillas in Loango National Park, Gabon’
$98,800
2013-2015 National Geographic Society
‘Why so big?: Reproductive success and body size in male & female mountain gorillas’
€ 20,000.
2014-2015 United States Fish & Wildlife Service Great Ape Conservation Fund
‘Integrating Research and Tourism as Conservation Strategies for critically endangered western gorillas in Loango National Park
Gabon’
$57,560
2012-2013 United States Fish & Wildlife Service Great Ape Conservation Fund
‘Conservation, Research, and Tourism of Western Gorillas and Central Chimpanzees in Loango National Park, Gabon’
$67,970
2012-2014 Great Ape Education Project
collaborative conservation education project with UNITE, Kassisi Project, and Nature for Kids that produced 3 conservation videos for children and conducted outreach activities with 8 primary schools around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
received €19,000 of a € 260,000 overall grant from the Adessium Foundation
2011-2012 United States Fish & Wildlife Service Great Ape Conservation Fund
‘Conservation and Research of Western Gorillas in Loango National Park, Gabon’
$78,755
2008-2009 United States Fish & Wildlife Service Great Ape Conservation Fund
‘Prospects for Growth: Developing Applied Conservation Strategies through Integrative Ecological Modeling of Bwindi Mountain Gorillas’
$41,249
2006-2007 National Geographic Society
‘Prospects for Growth:  Assessment of habitat utilization, habitat availability, population trends and genetic variability of Bwindi mountain gorillas’
$18,930
2005-2006 Leakey Foundation
‘Strategies of diet selectivity and habitat utilization in mountain gorillas of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda’
$12,000
1995 Sigma Xi- Wisconsin Chapter Graduate Research Award
Semi-finalist
1994 Chicago Zoological Society Conservation & Research Grant
(not utilized due to political instability in Rwanda)
1991-1994 National Science Foundation Graduate Student Fellowship
(stipend and tuition).

Professional Services

Reviewer for the following journals and publishers:
  • Animal Behaviour  
  • Behavioral Ecology & Sociobiology,
  • American Journal of Physical Anthropology,
  • American Journal of Primatology,
  • International Journal of Primatology
  • Animal Cognition
  • Behavioral Ecology,
  • University of Chicago Press
  • Cambridge University Press
Reviewer for the following granting agencies:
  • National Science Foundation
  • the Leakey Foundation
  • National Geographic Society.
Professional societies:
  • International Primate Society
  • German Primate Society
  • Regular contributor of articles for Gorilla Journal (publication of Berggorilla Regenwald Direkthilfe)
  • GRASP (Great Ape Survival Partnership; UNEP) Scientific Council, 2013-present
  • Primates, Advisory Board member, 2012-2017
  • IUCN Section on Great Apes committee member, 2002-present
  • Evaluator for IUCN Red List Assessment of Gorilla beringei, 2008
  • Evaluator for IUCN Red List Assessment of Gorilla beringei beringei, 2015
  • Wildlife Conservation Society Fellow
  • Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Program Conservation Advisory Committee Member, 2009-2011
  • Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Program – Science Advisor, 2012-2013
  • Art of Conservation, Advisory Council Member, 2012-2013

Conference & Workshops Organized

August 2014 Co-organizer for ‘Understanding the Variability of Gorilla Social Structure’, symposium at International Primatology Conference, Hanoi, Vietnam.
June 2014 Co-organizer for ‘Apes Across Africa’ Workshop, Fort Portal, Uganda.
Goal was to bring together early career African ape conservationists and researchers for a four day workshop of talks, discussions, training sessions, and field site visits. Meeting was attended by fifty participants, including representatives from 14 African countries.
November 2013 Co-organizer for ‘Gorillas Across Africa’ workshop, Musanze, Rwanda.
Goal was to bring together early career African conservationists and researchers working with gorillas for a fourday workshop of talks, discussions, training sessions, and field site visits.  Meeting was attended by forty participants, including representatives from 8 African countries.
June 2011 Co-organizer for ‘Gorillas Across Africa’ workshop, Ruhija, Uganda.
Goal was to bring together early career African conservationists and researchers working with gorillas for a four day workshop of talks, discussions, training sessions, and field site visits. Meeting was attended by forty participants, including representatives from 7 African countries.
August 2009 Co-organizer for ‘Assessing the Prospects for Growth of the Bwindi Mountain Gorilla Population’ workshop, Kabale, Uganda.
Goals were to assess the relative effects of potential management actions on population growth and establish future priorities for gorilla research & management strategies.
Meeting was attended by +40 participants from six organizations working in and around Bwindi and beyond.
June 2008 Organizer for ‘Research & Conservation of Bwindi Mountain Gorillas Workshop’ , Ruhija, Uganda.
Meeting consisted of presentations and discussions of ongoing research in Bwindi.  Attended by +30 participants from six organizations working in and around Bwindi. 
August 2004 Co-organizer for ‘Feeding Ecology in Apes and Other Primates’ conference, Leipzig, Germany. 
Goal was to bring together more than 20 researchers to present findings and discuss future avenues of research concerning feeding ecology of great apes.
January 1999 Co-organizer for ‘Mountain Gorillas of Karisoke:  Research Synthesis and Potentials’, Leipzig, Germany. 
Goal was to have 15 researchers present findings and discuss future avenues for research of Virunga mountain gorillas.

Invited Workshops/ Symposia

August 2016Plasticity and individual variation: evolutionary significance and conservation consequences, Symposium at International Primatology Conference, Chicago.
May 2014 Western Gorilla Research & Conservation Symposium, Libreville, Gabon.
September 2013Great Ape Summit, Jackson Hole, WY, 
May 2013Great Ape Conservation Workshop, Brazzaville, Republic of Congo.
April 2013Reconstructing Dietary Adaptations in Human Evolution, Tempe, AZ.
August 2012Mountain Gorillas Then and Now: Celebrating 45 Years of Research at the Karisoke Research Center, Symposium at International Primatology Conference, Cancun, Mexico.
August 2012Flexibility in Social Relationships in Female-dispersal Species, Symposium at International Primatology Conference, Cancun, Mexico.
October 2010Aggression & Peacemaking in an Evolutionary Context, Lorenz Workshop, Leiden, Netherlands.
September 2008Leakey Foundation 40th Anniversary  - Primatology symposium, San Francisco, CA.
October 2007Conservation for Migratory Species Gorilla Meeting, Paris, France.
May 2007Rwandan Biodiversity Conference, Kigali, Rwanda.
May 2005 Great Ape Conservation Workshop, Brazzaville, Republic of Congo.

Media

Documentaries

2012Mitt I Naturen Uganda (The Middle of Nature – Uganda)
One hour of a four part series about Uganda focusing on Bwindi mountain gorillas and my research.  This is the longest running and most popular nature show in Sweden.
2010Mountain Gorilla. BBC.
3 one hour long documentaries, focusing half on Bwindi mountain gorillas, my research, and conservation activities. 
2009Berggorillas – Ugandas sanfte Riesen (Mountain gorillas – Uganda’s gentle giants). ARTE.
45 minute documentary focused on Bwindi mountain gorillas, my research, and links between conservation and the surrounding communities.
2009Among the Apes. Firefly Productions, aired on BBC 5. 
One hour documentary of a four part series about wild primates, focusing on Bwindi mountain gorillas.
2008 The Gorilla King. Tigress Films. 
Interview in a one hour documentary using the life of a silverback gorilla to explain the conservation issues of mountain gorillas. 

Printed articles & photographs

2015‘The Basics about Mountain Gorillas’:  30 page booklet for distribution to Uganda Wildlife Authority park staff to improve knowledge about gorillas.
2015Runner up in Royal Society photo contest.
August 2015African Geographic, photos for article on Gabon tourism by Nick Tims.
2014 Cover Photograph Primate Ethnographies, KB Strier (ed), Pearson Press.
2011Cover Photograph Primates in Perspective, 2nd edition.  Campbell, CJ, Fuentes, A, MacKinnon, KC, Bearder, S, & Stumpf, RM.  Oxford (eds) University Press, Oxford
2015Photographs in: State of the Apes:  Industrial Agriculture and Ape Conservation. H. Rainer, ed. Cambridge University Press.
2008Photographsin Max Planck Research Magazine.  ‘Rukina’s Remarkable Family’ by Klaus Wilhelm.
2008Photographs in: Illustreret Videnbskab  (Danish ‘Science Illustrated).  Rivaler på tålt ophold  (Tolerated Rivals).
2008 Photographs in: German Psychology Today. ‘Remarkable Rukina’ by Klaus Wilhelm.
2005 Photographs in: World Atlas of Great Apes. Caldecott, J, Miles, L. (eds).University California Press.

 

Publications

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Books

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