My Ph.D. research (2005-2009) focused on the evolutionary and ecological determinants of multilevel societies in primates, which are characterized by core family units nested into larger bands. They represent one of the least understood and most complex types of primate social systems.
In collaboration with Carel van Schaik (University of Zurich) and counterparts at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, I conducted a two-year study on the Yunnan snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus bieti) in temperate China, a species which was thought to exhibit such a multi-tiered social system.
My research provided some of the first information available on the dynamics of the snub-nosed monkeys’ complex social system and the underlying behavioral mechanisms. This species clearly offers great potential for additional study on social behavior.
Understanding the selective forces prompting multilevel societies will ultimately help us to illuminate the evolution of the human multifamily social system in which kinship ties are extended beyond the nuclear family, thus encompassing a range of social layers.
The second goal of my Ph.D. project was to understand how the snub-nosed monkeys are able cope with an extended season of food scarcity in a harsh unproductive and highly seasonal temperate environment.
I collected field data on behavioral and ecological parameters such as range use, foraging strategy, and fallback foods. Investigating the behavioral responses of Rhinopithecus to pronounced seasonal changes in food availability helps us to understand the diverse evolutionary adaptations of primates to different environments.
Institute of Zoology, CAS,
Anthropological Institute and Museum, University of Zurich