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:

  • Prevalence of endocrine-active chemicals in the diets of primates
  • Endocrine active chemical exposure based on dietary niche or phylogeny
  • Environmental influence on phytosteroid content of wild plants and its affects on primate feeding behavior
  • Phytosteroids influence on aggressive, anxiety-related, or mating behaviors
  • Comparative framework examining relative exposure and susceptibility to endocrine-active chemicals across primate species in Africa, Latin America, and Asia.

Recent focus:

  • Hormone-active chemicals in the foods and environments of primates
  • Influence of hormone-active chemicals on primate physiology and behavior and consequentially 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. For questions relating to the graduate school experience, please see the lab members page for graduate student contacts.

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

  • PhD completion in PEEL is approximately 6 years. A built in masters is included in the program.
  • Students have diverse and rigorous departmental coursework expectations to reach candidacy (60 credit hours), which typically takes 2-3 years.
  • 1 year is typically spent studying for and taking your qualification exam, as well as applying for external funding for your project.
  • <1 year of field research is conducted
  • The remaining time after field work is spent analyzing data and writing the final dissertation.
  • Teaching or fellowship funding is expected for all students.

IRES Positions: Five undergraduate student research positions for the IRES program are available each year starting in September. IRES is a 10 week NSF funded research opportunity where undergraduate and graduate students will design, collect, and analyze their own project and data. Undergraduates typically do this for an honors thesis and graduate students use this for preliminary or doctoral research data. IRES work is conducted in Costa Rica, Uganda, and Panama. For Summer 2023 the IRES Program will be traveling to Kibale National Park, Uganda. Summer 2024 the IRES Program will be traveling to Panama.