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Melissa Emery Thompson

Research Assistant Professor
University of New Mexico
Department of Anthropology

The Hidden Lives of Female Apes

Monday, March 22, 2010
Science I 149, 5:00 PM

Rescheduled for Friday, May 7, 2010
Biology department seminar
Science 3 room 214, 4:00 PM

Abstract

Until recently, the factors that shape the life histories and social relationships of female apes have been poorly understood in comparison with their male counterparts and with females in other well-studied primates. Female dispersal, slow reproductive rates, and weak sociality have not only constrained observation times but have confounded interpretation through common primate socioecological models. Nonetheless, there are reasons to believe that female apes, through shared heritage and common reproductive and social constraints can provide essential information about the evolution of human female social interactions.  This is an area of research which is itself rapidly evolving, and recent studies utilizing hormonal and genetic data and new models for evaluating long-term social and affiliative relationships reveal that female apes negotiate a complex environment of high energetic demand and challenging social pressures. In this presentation, I will discuss the causes and consequences of subtle competitive and cooperative social relationships among females, the selective importance of which have heretofore been underestimated.  I will additionally explore sexual conflict between males and females, emphasizing the ways in which new studies challenge overly simplistic models of selective and coercive behavior.

Biography

Melissa Emery Thompson received her PhD from Harvard University in 2005 with a dissertation entitled “Endocrinology and Ecology of Wild Female Chimpanzee Reproduction”.  She has conducted field work with three wild chimpanzee populations in Uganda and Tanzania, as well as with captive and sanctuary chimpanzees, and is currently working with international collaborations on the reproductive ecology and life history of orangutans and on the biodemography of health and aging in South American foragers.  After conducting post-doctoral work at Harvard and Boston Universities, she joined the Department of Anthropology at University of New Mexico, where she is a Research Assistant Professor and Co-Director of the Hominoid Reproductive Ecology Laboratory.

Readings

  1. Core area quality is associated with variance in reproductive success among female chimpanzees at Kibale National Park

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