My primary research interests involve the interacting biological and behavioral strategies of males and females in animal social systems, and the implications of these interactions for the evolution of reproductive strategies and complex sociality. More broadly, I am interested in animal social behavior and the costs, benefits, and evolution of sociality.
My taxonomic focus is Papio baboons, and I am currently running two field research programs, one long-term project focusing on hamadryas baboons (Papio hamadryas hamadryas) at the Filoha field site in Ethiopia and a series of shorter term collaborative projects focusing on chacma baboons (Papio hamadryas ursinus) in the Cape Peninsula of South Africa.
Hamadryas baboons are characterized by a unique multi-level society that is largely controlled by males. Such a social system lies at the far extreme of known variation in sex roles among primates, and begs explanation. As a means to elucidate the evolutionary underpinnings of this unique system, especially the understudied role of female behavior, I have focused my research over the past 20 years on the behavior and ecology of wild hamadryas baboons at Filoha, a research program that has since been formalized as the Filoha Hamadryas Project.
As a complement to my work on hamadryas baboons, about a decade ago thanks to a Fulbright Fellowship I expanded my research program to include chacma baboons of the Cape Peninsula of South Africa. Since 2006 I have been collaborating with South African colleagues and students as part of the Cape Peninsula Baboon Research Unit to investigate the impact of social structure, social behavior, and human disturbance on stress, reproduction, and sexual strategies of chacma baboons in the Table Mountain National Park. My student Shahrina Chowdhury is finishing up her PhD work on stress and sociality in females of the Tokai section of Table Mountain National Park, and post-doctoral associate Steffen Foerster and I are following up on Shahrina's research with a collaborative project that aims to elucidate the proximate mechanisms underlying the previously demonstrated link between sociality and fitness in baboons (cf. work by Silk and colleagues). For more information about my research in the Cape Peninsula, see my Tokai research page.
My research has been generously funded over the past two decades by the National Science Foundation, the Leakey Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the National Geographic Society, and the PSC-CUNY Award Program.
all text and photos copyright © Larissa Swedell