Our Primate Environmental Endocrinology Lab (PEEL) explores how ecological interactions and global environmental change driven by human activity affect non-human primates via the endocrine and immune systems, as well as the gut microbiome. We study primates, including humans, across the tropics, including our own research in Uganda, Costa Rica, and Panama, as well as collaborations across Africa, Asia, and Latin America.PEEL_logo_Vector File

Specifically, our lab examines the prevalence of steroidal chemicals in the wild plant foods of primates and how these chemicals influence endocrine systems, behaviors, and populations of various primate species. We also examine the effects anthropogenic chemicals, 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 to the 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 to endocrine-active chemicals across various primate species in Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia, as well as the physiological and behavioral consequences of exposure for these primates.

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 grant supports student research in Costa Rica, Panama, and Uganda.

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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.

If you are interested in joining the lab, please email me at mdwasser@indiana.edu.