Photo by: Purwo Kuncoro

Grantee Spotlight: Kelsey Ellis

Kelsey Ellis is a PhD candidate at the University of Texas at Austin. During our spring 2015 cycle she was awarded a Leakey Foundation research grant for her project entitled “Grouping dynamics of woolly monkeys (Lagothrix poeppigii) in Amazonian Ecuador.”

Kelsey Ellis Kelsey Ellis

Multilevel societies are recognized as some of the most complex social systems found in nature and have been identified in a wide array of taxa including elephants, cetaceans, birds, humans, and some species of non-human primates from Africa and Asia. However, despite suggestive field observations that this form of social organization may also characterize certain taxa of New World primates, little attention has been paid to possible examples of multilevel societies among platyrrhines.

My dissertation research aims to fill this gap by focusing on the grouping dynamics of woolly monkeys (Lagothrix poeppigii) at the Tiputini Biodiversity Station  (TBS) in Amazonian Ecuador. At TBS, woolly monkey groups have been observed to fission in to small coordinated subgroups that persist for hours or even days, but similar to other multilevel societies, socially cohesive groups may also coalesce into temporary supergroups that rest, travel, and forage together for several hours.

A woolly monkey named Chromeo A woolly monkey named Chromeo

Over the next six months, my team and I will collect data on range use and social interactions, as well as fecal samples for assessing genetic relatedness, from four neighboring groups to better understand how factors such as kinship, homophily (preference to associate with others of the same age and/or sex), reproductive strategies, and ranging behavior influence such flexible grouping patterns. This project is among the first to examine the social organization of a New World primate from an explicitly multilevel perspective and may lead to a better understanding of the evolution and maintenance of modular societies in both human and non-human primates.    

Coco and Conrad Coco and Conrad



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