Our Primate Environmental Endocrinology Lab (PEEL) explores how ecological interactions and global environmental change driven by human activity affect primates across tropical forests and other ecosystems globally. We study primates, including humans, around the world, including our own research in Uganda, Costa Rica, Panama, and India, as well as collaborations across Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas.

Current Projects

IRES: International Research Experience for Students, funded from a National Science Foundation grant, supports student research in Costa Rica, Panama, and Uganda through 2024.

Initial focus:

  • How prevalent are endocrine-active chemicals in the diets of various primate species?
  • Are there differences in exposure based upon dietary niche (e.g., frugivores vs. folivores) or phylogeny (e.g., monkeys vs. apes)? 
  • What environmental factors influence the phytosteroid content of wild plants and how does this affect primate feeding behavior?
  • Does the ingestion of phytosteroids alter rates of aggressive, anxiety-related, or mating behaviors?
  • Address these questions using a comparative framework in which we examine the relative exposure and susceptibility to endocrine-active chemicals across various primate species in Africa, Latin America, and Asia.

Recent focus:

  • Hormone-active chemicals in the foods and environments of primates
  • How do hormone-active chemicals influence physiology and behavior leading to differences in morbidity, mortality, and reproduction?
  • Ecotourism, research presence, forest fragmentation, climate change, and anthropogenic factors impact on primate health and behavior
  • Non-invasive health measurement methodology creation and validation
  • Endocrine, immune, genetic, and gut microbiome methods

Field Sites

Uganda: Kibale National Park

Most of our research takes place at Kibale National Park in western Uganda, a tropical forest where P.I. Wasserman has worked since 2003, and in Costa Rica, where Wasserman first studied tropical ecology during a study abroad program in 2000. Most of our work in Uganda is in collaboration with the Makerere University Biological Field Station

Costa Rica: La Selva Biological Field Station & Taboga

PEEL works at La Selva Biological Field Station and other field sites across Costa Rica in collaboration with the Organization for Tropical Studies. We also work in collaboration with the University of Michigan at the Taboga Forest Reserve.

La Selva Biological Field Station, OTS photo

Panama: Barro Colorado Island

Dr. Wasserman and graduated PhD student, Dr. Benavidez-Westrich, have both worked at and collaborated with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute at Barro Colorado Island. Barro Colorado Island is a unique landscape that was formed in 1913 as a byproduct of the Panama Canal creation.

India: Himalayan Langur Project

PhD Student, Elizabeth Coggeshall, has just begun PEEL research in the Himalayas of India. The Himalayan Langur Project’s central objectives are to investigate and conserve the rich, but overlooked, biodiversity and culture of the Indian Himalayas. Specifically, they focus on community work, the alloprimate species Semnopithecus schistaceus, and Himalayan ecology.

Prospective Students & Collaborations

Contact: If you are interested in joining the lab as part of the PhD program, IRES, or as a postdoc, please email me at mdwasser@indiana.edu.

Expectations: Graduate students and postdocs interested in joining PEEL will be expected to develop their own dissertation projects related to these general themes and work with undergraduate students and international collaborators in both the lab and field. Potential field sites are open to discussion.

IRES Positions: Five undergraduate student research positions for the IRES program are available each year starting in September.