Photo by: Purwo Kuncoro

Grantee Spotlight: Katharine Burke

Katharine Burke is a PhD candidate from the University at Buffalo. In the spring of 2016 she was awarded a Leakey Foundation research grant for her project entitled “Social network, personality and physiological stress levels in juvenile rhesus.” Here she has provided us with a summary of her work. 

Katharine Burke

Katharine Burke

I am investigating possible links between social support, personality and stress buffering in juvenile rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) on Cayo Santiago, Puerto Rico. Unlike infants, juveniles are active participants in choosing with whom they interact. Their social relationships are useful in facilitating access to food and avoiding predation, and in developing social skills that will contribute to future health and fitness. Although we know that humans and adult female rhesus actively use social support to reduce stress and enhance fitness, there is little known about physiological stress in juvenile primates or the coping strategies they might employ to reduce it.

The aim of my project is to examine whether free-ranging juvenile rhesus macaques with strong social bonds and central positions in their social networks (shown by social network analysis) also show lower basal levels of stress (measured behaviorally and physiologically by measuring cortisol in feces). I will also examine whether personality is associated with basal stress levels either directly or through its effects on an individual’s position in its social network. Additionally, I will ask whether 1) personality traits of preferred peers are linked to individuals’ stress responses and 2) stress levels or social positions are associated with growth rates. Finally, I will collect similar data on the mothers to see how independent their offspring’s stress responses are. This study will shed light on the functions of social relationships in juveniles and the roles of sociality and personality in the management of physiological stress at this young age.

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