Franklin & Marshall Associate Professor of Psychology Elizabeth Lonsdorf is among a group of researchers recently awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation for a collaborative investigation of weaning in African apes.
The project brings together four different institutions for a comparative study of chimpanzees in Tanzania and mountain gorillas in Rwanda and Uganda. In addition to Lonsdorf, researchers from the George Washington University, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology will examine the changes that occur when young apes transition from breastfeeding to a solid, adult-like diet.
Most of what is known about ape weaning comes from observations of suckling behavior, which is an imprecise measure. For the next three years, this team of researchers will work with a large group of collaborators to document behavioral, physiological and physical indicators of weaning. The team will also examine evidence of weaning in dental samples obtained from skeletons of apes.
“By integrating behavioral, physiological and skeletal data, we will have a much more precise picture of ape weaning, which also could potentially transform our understanding of weaning in early humans,” Lonsdorf said.
Lonsdorf has studied chimpanzees for 20 years at Gombe Stream Research Centre in collaboration with Jane Goodall and the Jane Goodall Institute.
“What is particularly exciting about this project is that it is the first study to bring together the long-term behavioral datasets started by Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey, two of the most well-known primatologists and heroes to many young scientists,” Lonsdorf said. “Even more exciting is that F&M students will have the opportunity to help analyze these data and contribute to the study.”