Research

My academic coordinates lie at the intersection of primatology/biological anthropology, environmental anthropology, and conservation. I am interested in primate behavioral flexibility, how humans fit into a broader primate community ecology, the causes and consequences of ecological sympatry between humans and other primates, and what human-primate relationships tell us about what it means to be human and what it means to be a primate.

An adult male moor macaque, “Hendra,” eating a provisioned corn cob along the provincial road in Bantimurung Bulusaraung National Park, South Sulawesi, Indonesia. Photo: Kate Jameson.


Primary research areas

  • Primate behavioral and ecological flexibility in human-modified landscapes
  • Ecological & social impacts of human-primate interactions
  • Crop feeding behavior: primate and human perspectives
  • Human dimensions of human-primate interactions and conflict
  • Primate conservation education
  • Ethics of field primatology
  • Integrative anthropology: reconciling biological and sociocultural anthropology


Study species & sites

Since 2010, I have primarily been conducting research on the human-primate interface in South Sulawesi, Indonesia, with moor macaques (Macaca maura). I have also conducted field research on the following primate species:

  • Macaca tonkeana: Lore Lindu National Park, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia
  • Macaca ochreata: Farumpenai Nature Reserve, South Sulawesi, Indonesia
  • Rhinopithecus brelichi: Fanjingshan National Nature Reserve, China
  • Macaca mulatta: Silver Springs State Park, Florida, USA


Recent field research projects

Ecological and social impacts of human-primate interactions and provisioning

With funding from SDSU’s University Grants Program and the President Leadership Fund, my students and I have examined how provisioning and interacting with people affects primate ranging and social behavior. The target population of this project includes moor macaques and the people who encounter them in Bantiumurung-Bulusaraung National Park, Sulawesi, Indonesia. One of our study groups has been habituated to human presence for many years, but it has never been observed interacting with people traveling on the provincial road that intersects the park. However, beginning in late 2015, this group began spending a considerable portion of the day along the road, with some individuals accepting food from people and foraging in trash pits. These behaviors are risky in that they increase the likelihood of them being hit by passing cars and motorcycles and the potential for human-primate disease transmission. We found that males, both adult and subadult, were more likely to be on the road compared to females. However, individuals who were along the road were not more likely to be in close proximity to others, which indicates that they do not perceive the road to be a risky context, even though risk of injury and/or death from passing vehicles is a reality. We also found that the group was less cohesive when along the road compared to when they are in the forest, which suggests that being on the road and interacting with people disrupts typical social relationships. By examining this emerging human-primate interface, our goal is to contribute to a growing body of research focused on how roads, an increasingly pervasive element of anthropogenic infrastructural expansion, affect wildlife and ecosystems (“road ecology”). We are also using the project results to develop conservation education programs focused on expanding people’s knowledge of the negative effects of provisioning (e.g., poor nutrition, possibility of disease transmission, increased social conflicts, risk of injury) and why protecting the macaques is important (e.g., for the roles primates play in forest regeneration).

Throwing food to macaques
People in passing cars feeding the macaques in TNBABUL, Sulawesi, Indonesia. Photo: Kristen Morrow.
Ecological correlates of crop feeding by moor macaques

Crop feeding (or crop raiding) – the consumption of cultivated foods produced in agricultural areas – is an increasingly common response by wildlife to anthropogenic habitat change, and is particularly pervasive among primates. Because of the detrimental impact crop raiding can have on human livelihoods and the likelihood of local support for conservation efforts, crop raiding by primates has become one of most serious challenges to primate conservation. With funding from SDSU’s University Grants Program and the American Institute for Indonesian Studies (AIFIS), my graduate student, Alison Zak, and I are addressing this growing concern by integrating ecological, nutritional, and ethnographic analyses of the causes of crop feeding behavior by moor macaques (Macaca maura), an endangered primate species endemic to Sulawesi, Indonesia. The results of this project will inform the development of crop raiding mitigation strategies for rural farmers across Sulawesi, Indonesia, which if successful, will increase local tCrop feeding – the consumption of cultivated foods produced in agricultural areas – is an increasingly common response by wildlife to anthropogenic habitat change, and is particularly pervasive among primates. Because of the detrimental impact crop feeding can have on human livelihoods and the likelihood of local support for conservation efforts, crop raiding by primates has become one of most serious challenges to primate conservation. With funding from SDSU’s University Grants Program and the American Institute for Indonesian Studies (AIFIS), my former graduate student, Alison Zak, and I, addressed this growing concern by integrating ecological, nutritional, and ethnographic analyses of the causes of crop raiding behavior by moor macaques (Macaca maura), an endangered primate species endemic to Sulawesi, Indonesia. Using camera trap technology and by conducting interview with farmers, we found that farmer’s perceptions of crop feeding behavior by macaques do not always align with patterns determined by the camera traps. We communicated these results back to farmers to assist farmers in crop feeding mitigation efforts.  

crop feeding
Moor macaques feeding in maize field, Bengo, South Sulawesi, Indonesia
The intersubjectiveness of primate habituation

This project examined a facet of the human-primate interface that remains largely unexplored from an ethnoprimatological perspective: habituation. Defined as the process by which wild animals accept human observers as a neutral element in their environment, habituation is one of the hallmarks of field primatology. Although primatologists have explored how to accomplish habituation, little attention has been paid to habituation as a relational and mutually modifying process that occurs between human observers and their primate study subjects. With funding from the Wenner-Gren Foundation, my graduate student, KT Hanson, and I used a hybrid approach, drawing from ethnoprimatology and perspectives in human-animal studies, to examine the habituation of moor macaques (Macaca maura) as both a scientific and intersubjective process. Integrating ethological measures with ethnographic material enabled us to: explore how and why quantitative markers of habituation “success” differ from subjective impressions, observe habituation—and primate fieldwork in general—as a bidirectional, intersubjective experience, and come to understand habituation as a dynamic spectrum of tolerance rather than a state to be “achieved.” Collectively, our findings have important implications for future work in ethnoprimatology and habituation methodology, as well as the practice of primate fieldwork.

Adult male moor macaque "Jaya" interacting with people. Photo: Kristen Smith
Adult male moor macaque “Jaya” interacting with people. Photo: Kristen Morrow.
The human-macaque interface along the Silver River, Florida

Beginning in 2012, my colleagues and I initiated a project on the interface between boaters and a free-ranging population of rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) along Florida’s Silver River funded by a National Geographic Society/Waitt grant. Our goal was to take advantage of the unique opportunity presented by the historical introduction of Asian rhesus monkeys to the riparian woodlands of north central Florida to study primate ecological and behavioral flexibility and the nature of interactions human and nonhuman primates in the U.S. wilderness. My former graduate student, Tiffany Wade, and I focused on documenting the feeding ecology of the macaques and their interactions with people along the river’s edge. We found that Silver River macaques exhibited a dietary strategy similar to congeners in temperate broadleaf forests in Asia: they consumed more leaves and other non-fruit vegetative parts compared to fruits. They have also incorporated locally available plants native to North America into their dietary repertoire, such as sedges. This project not only contributes to our understanding of primate ecological flexibility, but also provides critical data needed for the management of the human-macaque interface at this site.

Silver River rhesus macaques. Photo: Tiffany Wade
Silver River rhesus macaques (Photo: Tiffany Wade)

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