Ecology, Evolution and Behavior

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Research statement

I study the behavior and biology of chimpanzees because study of our closest living relatives provides many fascinating insights into the possible lives of our ancestors and provides a context for understanding ourselves today.

My research focuses on intergroup relations. Long-term studies at sites across Africa have revealed that intergroup relations in chimpanzees are routinely hostile and sometimes violent. Such intergroup aggression provides a striking example of competition that depends on within-group cooperation, and has inspired numerous comparisons to primitive human warfare. Until recently, however, few data were available on this topic, and little had been done to test specific hypotheses. My goal as a researcher has been to fill this gap by obtaining quantitative, systematic data on intergroup aggression and other territorial behaviors, and to test hypotheses using field experiments and analysis of long-term data. My work focuses on data from Gombe National Park, Tanzania and Kibale National Park, Uganda.

Selected publications

Desai, N., Fedurek, P., Slocombe, K., Wilson, M. L. (2022). Chimpanzee pant-hoots encode individual but not group differences. American Journal of Primatology e23430. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajp.23430

Crouse, K., Desai, N., Cassidy, K.A., Stahler, E.E., Lehman, C., Wilson, M. L. (2022). Larger territories reduce mortality risk for chimpanzees, wolves, and agents: multiple lines of evidence in a model validation framework. Ecological Modelling Article 110063. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolmodel.2022.110063

Massaro, A. P., Gilby, I. C., Desai, N., Weiss, A., Feldblum, J. T., Pusey, A. E., Wilson, M. L. (2022). Correlates of individual participation in boundary patrols by male chimpanzees. Philosophical Transactions B 377: 20210151. https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2021.0151

Lehman, C., Loberg, S., Wilson, M. L., Gorham, E. (2021). Ecology of the Anthropocene signals hope for consciously managing the planetary ecosystem. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 118(28), e202415118. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2024150118

Miller, C. M., Snyder-Mackler, N., Nguyen, N., Fashing, P. J., Tung, J., Wroblewski, E. E., Gustison, M., Wilson, M. L. (2021). High extra-group paternity in gelada monkeys (Theropithecus gelada) at Guassa, Ethiopia. Animal Behaviour, 177: 277-301. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.anbehav.2021.05.008

Wilson, M. L. (2021). Insights into human evolution from sixty years of research on chimpanzees at Gombe. Evolutionary Human Sciences. 3, e8. Published online 11 January 2021. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/ehs.2021.2

Hockings, K. J., M. R. McLennan, S. Carvalho, M. Ancrenaz, R. Bobe, R. Byrne, R. I. M. Dunbar, T. Matsuzawa, W. C. McGrew, E. A. Williamson, M. L. Wilson, B. Wood, R. W. Wrangham and C. M. Hill (2015). "Apes in the Anthropocene: flexibility and survival." Trends in Ecology & Evolution 30(4): 215-222.

Zuk, M. and M. L. Wilson (2015). Why humans prevail. The Chronicle of Higher Education: 10 April: B16.

Wilson, M. L., C. Boesch, B. Fruth, T. Furuichi, I. C. Gilby, C. Hashimoto, C. Hobaiter, G. Hohman, N. Itoh, K. Koops, J. Lloyd, T. Matsuzawa, J. C. Mitani, D. C. Mjungu, D. Morgan, R. Mundry, M. N. Muller, M. Nakamura, J. D. Pruetz, A. E. Pusey, J. Riedel, C. Sanz, A. M. Schel, N. Simmons, M. Waller, D. P. Watts, F. J. White, R. M. Wittig, K. Zuberbühler and R. W. Wrangham (2014). "Lethal aggression in Pan is better explained by adaptive strategies than human impacts." Nature 513: 414-417.

Liu, W., Y. Li, K. S. Shaw, G. H. Learn, L. Plenderleith, J. A. Malenke, S. A. Sundararaman, M. A. Ramirez, P. A. Crystal, A. G. Smith, F. Bibollet-Ruche, A. Ayouba, S. Locatelli, A. Esteban, F. Mouacha, E. Guichet, C. Butel, S. Ahuka-Mundeke, B.-I. Inogwabini, J.-B. N. Ndjango, S. Speede, C. M. Sanz, D. B. Morgan, M. K. Gonder, P. J. Kranzusch, P. D. Walsh, A. V. Georgiev, M. N. Muller, A. K. Piel, F. A. Stewart, M. L. Wilson, A. E. Pusey, L. Cui, Z. Wang, A. Färnert, C. J. Sutherland, D. Nolder, J. A. Hart, T. B. Hart, P. Bertolani, A. Gillis, M. LeBreton, B. Tafon, J. Kiyang, C. F. Djoko, B. S. Schneider, N. D. Wolfe, E. Mpoudi-Ngole, E. Delaporte, R. Carter, R. L. Culleton, G. M. Shaw, J. C. Rayner, M. Peeters, B. H. Hahn and P. M. Sharp (2014). "African origin of the malaria parasite Plasmodium vivax." Nature Communications 5: 3346.

Gilby, I. C., M. L. Wilson and A. E. Pusey (2013). "Ecology rather than psychology explains co-occurrence of predation and border patrols in male chimpanzees." Animal Behaviour 86: 61-74.

Prado-Martinez, J., P. H. Sudmant, J. M. Kidd, H. Li, J. L. Kelley, B. Lorente-Galdos, K. R. Veeramah, A. E. Woerner, T. D. O'Connor, G. Santpere, A. Cagan, C. Theunert, F. Casals, H. Laayouni, K. Munch, A. Hobolth, A. E. Halager, M. Malig, J. Hernandez-Rodriguez, I. Hernando-Herraez, K. Prufer, M. Pybus, L. Johnstone, M. Lachmann, C. Alkan, D. Twigg, N. Petit, C. Baker, F. Hormozdiari, M. Fernandez-Callejo, M. Dabad, M. L. Wilson, L. Stevison, C. Camprubi, T. Carvalho, A. Ruiz-Herrera, L. Vives, M. Mele, T. Abello, I. Kondova, R. E. Bontrop, A. Pusey, F. Lankester, J. A. Kiyang, R. A. Bergl, E. Lonsdorf, S. Myers, M. Ventura, P. Gagneux, D. Comas, H. Siegismund, J. Blanc, L. Agueda-Calpena, M. Gut, L. Fulton, S. A. Tishkoff, J. C. Mullikin, R. K. Wilson, I. G. Gut, M. K. Gonder, O. A. Ryder, B. H. Hahn, A. Navarro, J. M. Akey, J. Bertranpetit, D. Reich, T. Mailund, M. H. Schierup, C. Hvilsom, A. M. Andres, J. D. Wall, C. D. Bustamante, M. F. Hammer, E. E. Eichler and T. Marques-Bonet (2013). "Great ape genetic diversity and population history." Nature 499(7459): 471-475.

Wilson, M. L.(2013). Chimpanzees, warfare and the invention of peace. In: D. P. Fry (Ed.), War, Peace, and Human Nature: The Convergence of Evolutionary and Cultural Views. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 361-388.

Wilson, M. L., Kahlenberg, S. M., Wells, M. T. & Wrangham, R. W. 2012. Ecological and social factors affect the occurrence and outcomes of intergroup encounters in chimpanzees. Animal Behaviour. 83(1): 277-291. doi: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2011.11.004.

Jones, J. H., Wilson, M. L., Murray, C. M., & Pusey, A. E. 2010. Phenotypic quality influences fertility in Gombe chimpanzees. Journal of Animal Ecology 79(6): 1262-1269. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2656.2010.01687.x.

Pusey, A. E., M. L. Wilson & D. A. Collins. 2008. Human impacts, disease risk, and population dynamics in the chimpanzees of Gombe National Park, Tanzania. American Journal of Primatology 70(8): 738-744.

Wilson, M. L., Hauser, M. D. & Wrangham, R. W. 2007. Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) modify grouping and vocal behaviour in response to location-specific risk. Behaviour 144(12): 1621-1653.

Pusey, A. E., Pintea, L. P., Wilson, M. L., Kamenya, S. & Goodall, J. 2007. The contribution of long-term research at Gombe National Park to chimpanzee conservation. Conservation Biology, 21, 623-634.

Wilson, M. L., Wallauer, W. & Pusey, A. E. 2004. New cases of intergroup violence among chimpanzees in Gombe National Park, Tanzania. International Journal of Primatology, 25, 523-549.

Wilson, M. L. & Wrangham, R. W. 2003. Intergroup relations in chimpanzees. In: Annual Review of Anthropology (Ed. by Durham, W. H.), pp. 363-92. Palo Alto, CA: Annual Reviews Inc.

Wilson, M. L., Britton, N. F. & Franks, N. R. 2002. Chimpanzees and the mathematics of battle. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B, 269, 1107-1112.

Wilson, M. L., Hauser, M. D. & Wrangham, R. W. 2001. Does participation in intergroup conflict depend on numerical assessment, range location, or rank for wild chimpanzees? Animal Behaviour, 61, 1203-1216.


Ph.D., Harvard University, 2001