Dr. Liran Samuni has been awarded The Leakey Foundation’s 2021 Gordon P. Getty Grant. This award honors scientists whose multidisciplinary research significantly advances science related to human origins, evolution, behavior, and survival.
Dr. Samuni is a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University where her research focuses on cooperation and intergroup relations in chimpanzees. Before moving to Harvard, she was a postdoctoral researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. She has studied Western and Eastern chimpanzees for over a decade. She has also studied bonobos. She currently oversees the long-term data collection and the training of staff at the Taï Chimpanzee Project and the Kokolopori Bonobo Research Project.
Her Gordon P. Getty Grant award will support her research project entitled “Group specific tool-use behavior and tool-use flexibility in chimpanzees living in a savanna-mosaic environment at the Moyen-Bafing National Park, Guinea.” Chimpanzees there have been observed using tools to fish for algae during the dry season. Dr. Samuni will study the potential cultural and ecological influences of this behavior in six chimpanzee groups.
“The ability to use tools and the emergence of cultural practices – group-specific behaviors acquired through social learning – are hallmarks of human societies,” wrote Samuni. “The ability to simultaneously document the tool use behavior of several individuals, ages, sexes, and groups offers an ideal context to explore the evolutionary pathway of human material culture.”
Studies examining both the social and ecological drivers of tool use expressions in multiple chimpanzee groups are rare due to the detailed and time-intensive observations needed to investigate cultural practices. By investigating the social and ecological contributors to this algae fishing behavior, Dr. Samuni’s work will help us better understand the evolutionary pathway of human material culture.
The Gordon P. Getty Grant was established in 2013 to celebrate Mr. Getty’s 40 years of leadership and his significant contributions to science as chairman of The Leakey Foundation’s board of trustees.
Past winners of the Gordon P. Getty Grant are:
2013 – Dr. Sileshi Semaw, CENIEH
2014 – Dr. Thure Cerling, University of Utah
2014 – Dr. Clara Scarry, California State University
2016 – Dr. Margaret Crofoot, Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior
2017 – Dr. Fredrick Manthi, National Museums of Kenya
2018 – Dr. Susan Perry, University of California, Los Angeles
2019 – Dr. Yohannes Haile-Selassie, Cleveland Museum of Natural History
2020 – Dr. Richard Kay, Duke University