Our Primate Environmental Endocrinology Lab (PEEL) explores how ecological interactions and global environmental change driven by human activity affect primates via the endocrine and immune systems, as well as the gut microbiome. We study primates, including humans, around the world, including our own research in Uganda, Costa Rica, and Panama, as well as collaborations across Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas.
Specifically, our lab examines the prevalence of hormone-active chemicals, both naturally-occurring phytosteroids and anthropogenic endocrine-disrupting compounds, in the foods and environments of primates and how these chemicals influence physiology and behavior leading to differences in morbidity, mortality, and reproduction. We also examine the effects of light pollution, ecotourism, research, forest fragmentation, and other ecological and anthropogenic factors on primates as measured by biomarkers of endocrine and immune functioning, the gut microbiome, and behavior.
Research questions with relevance to the dietary ecology of primates and evolution of modern human biology currently addressed in PEEL include: 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? We are currently addressing 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.
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. Funding from a National Science Foundation International Research Experience for Students (IRES) grant supports student research in Costa Rica, Panama, and Uganda.
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. Five undergraduate student research positions for the IRES program are available each year starting in September.
If you are interested in joining the lab as part of the PhD program, IRES, or as a postdoc, please email me at email@example.com.