Most primates are social species, and sociality comes with both benefits and costs. This doctoral dissertation project will assess underlying mechanisms by which social bonds shape well-being in primates. The investigator will study the interaction of behavior, hormones, immune function, and pathogens, to see whether stronger social bonds are associated with better immune function and lower physiological stress. The findings from this study will provide a comparative model for understanding sociality in our own species. The project will also further science education outreach and student training, primate conservation efforts, and development of international collaborations.
This project will investigate social buffering in wild chimpanzees at Ngogo, Kibale National Park, Uganda - the largest wild chimpanzee community ever studied. To assess the physiological and immunological correlates of social bonds, the investigators will measure dyadic bond strength, glucocorticoids (which reflect physiological reactions to stress and, when chronically elevated, impair immune function), oxytocin (a nonapeptide correlated with social bonding that may also attenuate glucocorticoid secretion), markers of immune activation (i.e., urinary neopterin and body temperature), and the presence of pathogenic infection. The investigators will noninvasively collect behavioral observations, urine, and feces from 50 adult and adolescent chimpanzees. Hormones and immune biomarkers will then be analyzed and infectious agents will be sequenced.