Primate Ecology & Molecular Anthropology (PEMA) Lab
Welcome to the PEMA Lab!
After almost an entire year of renovations, the PEMA lab at UCSC is finally operating!
Our research focus is twofold, first on the ecology of African great apes and their habitats, and second the subsistence strategies and movements of prehistoric human populations.
We primarily use minimal or non-invasive molecular tools to reconstruct diets and mobility in these human and non-human primates. Furthermore we employ direct observations and remote sensing to study primate behavior in the wild and tree climbing for arboreal sample collection.
The lab is primarily set up for sample processing and preparation for various types of isotope analyses, but also has space for other wet-chemical applications and microscopy.
Standard procedures include:
bonobo weaning project
Jasmine (Aya) Abdul-Karim
undergraduate Koret Scholar
undergraduate Koret Scholar
does not check his emails regularly
tree climber, field assistant (2017)
Taï National Park
field assistant (2017)
Taï National Park
Rumen Fernandez Martin
field assistant, tree climbing assistant (2016)
Taï National Park
Dr. Simone Ban
field assistant (2015)
Taï National Park
CURRENT RESEARCH PROJECTS
our current research endeavors and the people behind them
bonobo weaning behavior
Vicky M. Oelze, with help of Isabella O'Neal
Weaning, the process from breastfeeding to solid food intake in infants, is an important and critical phase in primate ontogeny which is extremely difficult to monitor in elusive wild primate species. Particularly in great apes such as bonobos (Pan paniscus), observations on breastfeeding and weaning are limited due to the arboreal nature of this species. Stable isotope analysis has proven to be a powerful tool to assess changes in diets of elusive animals over time. In this project we employ stable isotope analysis to indirectly and non-invasively monitor the process of ceasing breastmilk in the diet of wild infant bonobos by analyzing fecal samples from wild bonobos of the LuiKotale Bonobo Project in the Democratic Republic of Congo. By monitoring the weaning process throughout infant ontogeny in males and females, we will be able to address questions on sex biased maternal investment in wild bonobos.
This project is a collaborative venture between the PEMA lab, Barbara Fruth and Gottfried Hohmann representing the LuiKotale Bonobo Project (at the Liverpool John Moores University, UK and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Germany).
meat eating and its effect on stable isotope ratios of chimpanzee hair
Vicky M. Oelze
Chimpanzees hunt other mammals, predominantly primates, and meat is a highly valued food to everyone present at a meat sharing event. However, individuals and even social groups vary in the frequency they eat meat. In this project, we critically assess isotopic biomarkers that have previously been related to hunting prowess. This project, which we started in 2015, evaluates the use of stable isotopes in chimpanzee hair to reconstruct meat eating behavior. Succeeding seven months of hunting observations we collected hair of 25 individuals from two chimpanzees groups from Taï forest (Côte d’Ivoire) for sequential isotope analysis of carbon and nitrogen. From this hair we obtained stable isotope data (n=260) and relate the isotope data to observed amounts of meat consumed, sex/female reproductive state and group, while controlling for differences between individuals, seasons, and observation efforts. Meat eating amounts are based on direct observations (prey body parts eaten, body weights of different taxa, prey sex and age classes).
This project is with Roman M. Wittig, Sylvain Lemoine, Hjalmar S. Kühl and Christophe Boesch (Primatology Department, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany)
chimpanzee termite fishing ecology
Seth Phillips, advised by Vicky Oelze
Seth is studying the relationship between chimpanzees and Macrotemes termites in the Isaa valley of Tanzania. He investigates how much of the termites' complex ecology and reproductive cycle effects the chimpanzees ability to successfully fish for termites across the seasons. How do chimpanzees know when it is a good day to fish? And how do termites respond to predation by chimpanzees and does that vary over time?
Seth will examine whether the swarming behavior of the Macrotermes alates provides an ephemeral opportunity for chimpanzees to effectively termite-fish at Issa and beyond. Seth will experimentally replicate termite-fishing behavior at a selection of Macrotermes mounds. From long-term camera trap footage Seth will additionally assess the timing, the duration/intensity and the mode of chimpanzees visiting and re-visiting termite mounds.
We are collaborating on this project with Alex Piel and the GMERC (http://gmerc.org/).
population dynamics, human mobility and dietary change in the ancient Peruvian Andes
co-advised by Lars Fehren-Schmitz & Vicky M. Oelze
In the northern Andes, environmental constraints have limited research on prehistoric population interaction and human-landscape relationships. As a result, there is a limited understanding of how ancient people in regions like the “Andean-Amazonian Divide” interacted with each other, how they utilized the landscape, and how these various aspects of daily life contributed to daily choices. Eden’s dissertation research reconstructs individual life-histories and population dynamics of people in the Peruvian Andes living under periods of environmental and/or socioeconomic change. She uses a combination of isotopic (strontium, carbon and nitrogen) and ancient DNA analyses to enhance and broaden the study of under-researched archaeological communities of Peru.
This project is a joint venture of the Human Paelogenomics lab and the PEMA lab at UCSC.
canopy isotope project
Vicky M. Oelze
This project at Taï National Park, Côte d’Ivoire, seeks for biochemical markers of primate niche occupation within the forest canopy, which can in the future be used to reconstruct the dietary niche of extinct and fossil primate species, including early fossil hominins. We will provide a basis for future work in the field of niche differentiation in sympatric primates within forest canopies, primarily by investigating the patterns in carbon and oxygen stable isotopes within the different strata of the forest canopy itself, more specifically within leaves growing at different heights of the forest canopy.
Previous isotopic work on arboreal primates in Taï (Krigbaum et al 2013) has shown that arboreal primates exhibit different carbon and oxygen stable isotope values according to their niche occupancy within the different strata of the forest canopy. This pattern is highly likely related to a consistent gradient in the isotope values of plant foods growing at different canopy heights; a hypothesis which remained yet untested in the plant foods themselves. This project focuses on isotopic analyses of leaves crowing at different canopy heights of the forest, but will also measure nutritional properties (%protein) in leaves to assess at least one aspect of nutritional differences within the tree canopy.
This project is carried out with the support of Roman M. Wittig (Primatology Department, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany).
"a bite of chimp habitat"
Vicky M. Oelze with the PanAf and the MPWC
Stable isotope ratios have been measured in a range of fossil teeth from early African hominins and great apes from Africa and Asia. Isotope data suggests that many fossil hominin taxa in Africa were adapted to open environments and depended highly on C4 plant food resources. Although savanna chimpanzees are frequently used to model the ecology of these fossil species based on the biochemistry of their tooth enamel, there is little dental enamel isotope data from different chimpanzee populations, and none from those inhabiting savanna woodlands, more similar to environments presumably inhabited by fossil hominins. The same can be said about dental microtexture analysis. We close these gaps by providing a combined isotope and dental microwear dataset from forest and savanna chimpanzees and by integrating comprehensive information on their habitats. We predict that canopy cover and habitat density will be differently be reflected in dental carbon and oxygen stable isotope ratios. Differences in the biomechanical properties of plant foods between savanna and forest habitats (van Casteren et al. 2018) will also be reflected in distinct microtexture patterns. By integrating detailed habitat and climate information to the dental ecology data we will provide a completely new framework for the interpretation of isotopic and microwear data from fossil primates, including hominins.
Project PI Vicky Oelze (UCSC), with Gaelle Bocksberger (PanAf, MPI-EVA), Ellen Schulz-Kornas, Kornelius Kupczik and Adam van Casteren (MPWC and MPI-EVA).
savanna termite isotope ecology
Vicky M. Oelze, with the PanAf and Seth Phillips
Among the most plausible explanations for the consistent C4 plant contribution to hominin diets across African regions is the consumption of C4 sedges, as well as the frequent consumption of C4 dependent termite species. Sponheimer et al (2005) showed that several sedges and also termite species indeed reveal C4 signatures, at least in samples from South Africa. With a single study in Senegal, there is hardly any evidence from other regions in Africa that termites target for C4 plants, and what the consequences from chimpanzee isotope ecology are is still an open question. In this study on Macrotermes termites from six different savanna chimpanzee habitats we want to investigate if termites target for C4 plants in habitats selected by chimpanzees today, assuming that environmental conditions favorable to chimpanzees would also been suitable for hominins in the past.
the demographics of termite fishing chimpanzees
Victoria Colins and Vicky M. Oelze
Wild chimpanzees across Africa fish for termites using complex tool kits made of sticks or other parts of vegetation. We still little understand how this complex cultural behavior and knowledge is transferred from one generation to the next via social learning. Using camera trap footage data from the Issa chimpanzees (GMERC), assistant Victoria Collins is investigating sex differences in chimpanzee termite mount visitation rates and how long females stay actively fishing at termite mounts compared to males, particularly when they are with their dependent offspring.
We are collaborating on this project with Alex Piel and the GMERC (http://gmerc.org/).
latest update 1/29/2019
Wessling E.G., Oelze V.M., Eshuis H., Pruetz J.D., Kühl H.S. (in press): Stable isotope variation in savanna chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes verus) indicate avoidance of energetic challenges through dietary compensation at the limits of the range. American Journal of Physical Anthropology (manuscript accepted January 1st 2019), DOI:10.1002/ajpa.23782
van Casteren A., Oelze, V.M., Angedakin S., Kalan A.K., Kambi M., Boesch C., Kuehl H.S., Langergraber K.E., Piel A.K., Stewart F.A., Kupczik K. (2018): Food mechanical properties and isotopic signatures in forest versus savannah dwelling eastern chimpanzees. Communications Biology 1 (1), #109
Muenster A., Knipper C., Oelze V.M., Nicklisch N., Stecher M., Schlenker B., Ganslmeier R., Fragata M., Friederich S., Dresely V., Hubensack V., Brandt G., Doehle J., Vach W., Schwarz R., Metzner-Nebelsick C., Meller H., Alt K.W. (2018): 4000 years of human dietary evolution in Central Germany, from the first farmers to the first elites. PlosOne. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0194862
Scheffrahn, R.H., Bourguignon T., Bordereau C., Hernandez-Aguilar R.A., Oelze V.M., Dieguez P., Sobotnik, J., Pascual-Garrido, A. (2017): White-gutted soldiers: simplification of the digestive tube for a non-particulate diet in higher Old World termites (Isoptera: Termitidae). Insectes Sociaux,1-9.
Oelze, V. M., Fahy, G. E., Hohmann, G., Robbins, M. M., Leinert, V., Lee, K., Eshuis, H., Seiler, N., Wessling, E. G., Head, J. S., Boesch, C., & Kuehl, H. S. (2016). Comparative isotope ecology of African great apes. Journal of Human Evolution, 101, 1-16.
Crowley, B., Reitsema, L., Oelze, V. M., & Sponheimer, M. (2016). Advances in primate stable isotope ecology-achievements and future prospects. American Journal of Primatology, 78(10), 995-1003.
Special Issue in the American Journal of Primatology, co-edited by Brooke E. Crowley, Laurie J. Reitsema, Vicky M. Oelze and Matt Sponheimer (2016): "Advances In Primate Stable Isotope Ecology"
Mundry, R., and Oelze, V. M. (2016). Who is who matters - the effects of pseudoreplication in stable isotope analysis. American Journal of Primatology, 78(10), 1017-1030.
Oelze, V. M. (2016). Reconstructing temporal variation in great ape and other primate diets: A methodological framework for isotope analyses in hair. American Journal of Primatology, 78(10), 1004-1016.
Oelze, V. M., Douglas, P. H., Stephens, C. R., Behringer, V., Surbeck, M., Richards, M. P., Fruth, B., & Hohmann, G. (2016). The steady state great ape? Long term isotopic records reveal the effects of season, social rank and reproductive status on bonobo feeding behaviour. PlosOne, 11(9): e0162091.
Oelze, V. M., Head, J. S., Robbins, M. M., Richards, M. P., & Boesch, C. (2014). Niche differentiation and dietary seasonality among sympatric gorillas and chimpanzees in Loango National Park (Gabon) revealed by stable isotope analysis. Journal of Human Evolution, 66(1), 95-106.
Nehlich, O., Oelze, V. M., Jay, M., Conrad, M., Staeuble, H., Teegan, W.-R., & Richards, M. P. (2014). Sulphur isotope ratios of multi-period archaeological skeletal remains from central Germany: A dietary and mobility study. Anthropologie: international journal of the science of man, 52(1), 15-33.
Oelze, V. M., Nehlich, O., & Richards, M. P. (2012). "There's no place like home" - No isotopic evidence for mobility at the Early Bronze Age cemetery of Singen, Germany. Archaeometry, 54(4), 752-778.
Oelze, V. M., Koch, J. K., Kupke, K., Nehlich, O., Zaeuner, S., Wahl, J., Weise, S. M., Rieckhoff, S., & Richards, M. P. (2012). Multi-isotopic analysis reveals individual mobility and diet at the Early Iron Age Monumental Tumulus of Magdalenenberg, Germany. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 148(3), 406-421.
Deschner, T., Fuller, B. T., Oelze, V. M., Boesch, C., Hublin, J.-J., Mundry, R., Richards, M. P., Ortmann, S., & Hohmann, G. (2012). Identification of energy consumption and nutritional stress by isotopic and elemental analysis of urine in bonobos (Pan paniscus). Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry, 26(1), 69-77.
Oelze, V. (2012). Mobility and diet in Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age Germany: evidence from multiple isotope analysis. PhD Thesis, Department of Human Origins, Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden Univ., Leiden.
Oelze, V. M., Fuller, B. T., Richards, M. P., Fruth, B., Surbeck, M., Hublin, J.-J., & Hohmann, G. (2011). Exploring the contribution and significance of animal protein in the diet of bonobos by stable isotope ratio analysis of hair. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 108(24), 9792-9797.
Oelze, V. M., Siebert, A., Nicklisch, N., Meller, H., Dresely, V., & Alt, K. W. (2011). Early Neolithic diet and animal husbandry: stable isotope evidence from three Linearbandkeramik (LBK) sites in Central Germany. Journal of Archaeological Science, 38(2), 270-279.
meet our collaborators and their projects
(formerly Ugalla Primate Project)
We are collaborating with GMERC on numerous projects on chimpanzee termite fishing behavior, termite ecology and camera trap data. The GMERC project is located in the savanna/Miombo woodland landscape of the Issa Valley in Tanzania, East Africa. Research at GMERC focuses on the behavior, ecology, and conservation of the wildlife and especially primates that live across the Greater Mahale Ecosystem.
Taï Chimpanzee Project (TCP)
Since 2015, Vicky Oelze is collaborating with TCP on the stable isotope ecology of the Taï chimpanzees and Taï forest. Our main interest is the relationship between meat eating behavior in the Taï chimpanzees and the stable isotope ratios of hair. In another project we investigate the stratification in plant stable isotope ratios within the forest canopy. The Taï Chimpanzee Project is located in Côte d’Ivoire, West Africa, and has been established over thirty years ago by Christophe and Hedwige Boesch. Today the project is co-directed by Roman Wittig and Catherine Crockford and is following three habituated neighboring communities of chimpanzees.
LuiKotale Bonobo Project
Since 2009, Vicky Oelze is collaborating with Gottfried Hohmann and Barbara Fruth on the isotope ecology of the LuiKotale bonobos. This collaboration is still ongoing with a current project on bonobo infant weaning behavior. The site, with today 2 habituated bonobo groups and another under habituation, is located close to the Western border of Salonga National Park in DRC, which belongs to the largest remaining forest blocks in Africa.
UCSC Human Paleogenomics Lab
The Human Paleogenomics Lab directed by Prof. Lars Fehren-Schmitz investigates how culture and biology have shaped human genomic diversity, demography and health, with a strong focus on the prehistory and peopling of the Americas. We collaborate on questions related to the subsistence and habitat use of prehistoric people in South America.
Max Planck Weizmann Center for Integrative Archaeology and Anthropology (MPWC)
The MPWC is part of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. The goal of the MPWC is to better understand human evolution by drawing on expertise from archaeology, anthropology, biology, physics and material sciences. The MPWC in Leipzig focuses on the evolution of the human masticatory apparatus. We are collaborating with group leader Kornelius Kupczik and his team on the dental ecology of chimpanzees by combining the MPWC expertise in dental surface texture analysis and the experience of the PEMA lab with isotope analysis in extant chimpanzees.
Research on the ecology of living primates can get a very different perspective if one is high up in the trees. Trust us, it's a fact! Will Koomjian, certified arborist, tree climber, and undisputed tree nerd, instructs and assists researchers worldwide in accessing the crowns of the canopy for their projects. Will worked with Vicky in Taï National Park in 2015. In the field season of 2017, Vicky worked with the experienced arborist James Luce (https://www.arborcanada.com/instructors/Luce-James/). Both amazing tree climbers and teachers!
Classes in and around the lab
Evolution of Human Diet
This lecture discusses the evolution of human diet and subsistence from a biological anthropological perspective, including evidence on past human behaviors revealed by paleoanthropology, archaeology, archaeometry, primatology, genetics and osteology. It will introduce the students to the main hypothesis related to the evolution of dietary behavior from our early ancestors up to the transition to agriculture and animal husbandry, from man the hunted - to man the hunter - to man the cook – to man the farmer.
Primate Behavior & Ecology
This lecture covers the fundamentals of the ecology, behavior and evolution of non-human primates, and how to study these in the wild. The topics encompassed include the human perception of primates, primate life history, feeding ecology, socioecology, concepts of group living and social behavior, communication, endocrinology, mating systems and kin selection. Moreover the course will focus on great apes, their societies, culture and cognition.
Stable Isotope Ecology
This combination of lectures and now also hands-on lab applications provides students with a comprehensive overview of stable isotope research in fossil hominoids, prehistoric human populations and non-human primates. We discover the wide application of isotopic research in biological anthropology, bioarcheology, primatology, forensics and wildlife ecology.
Forensic Anthropology & Bioarchaeology
This hands-on lab class introduces students to the classic bioanthropological methods to determine age, sex, ancestry, body stature and health in human skeletal remains, such as modern forensic cases or archaeologically recovered material.
Advanced Readings in Biological Anthropology
aka Journal Club
This class is a small discussion round of PIs, grad students and postdocs that focuses on key research articles in our discipline. Advanced readings are novel or seminal journal articles suggested by the instructor or the participating graduate students. These papers will be relevant to biological anthropology in general, archaeological sciences or human evolution and we will particularly focus on articles employing isotope biogeochemistry and ancient DNA analytics. We will read, summarize and critically discuss research articles and rotate with the responsibilities of presenting the key findings of each article. New methodological approaches are also of major interest in this class and the selection of method papers is strongly encouraged.
Undergrads: please contact Vicky if you are a senior and highly interested in actively and consistently joining our biweekly discussion rounds.
Chimpanzee Video Coding Team
In this project we code camera trap video footage from the Issa Valley in Tanzania, as savanna chimpanzee field site we are collaborating with via GMERC (Greater Mahale Ecosystem Research and Conservation, see collaborations). The camera traps are mainly triggernd by movements of wild animals, including wild chimpanzees. Our task is to go through the video material, identify animal species and their behaviors, and entering the information into excel. We intensively discuss the identification of age, sex and individuals from clips showing chimpanzees. We meet at least once per week and discuss our progress and problems, and share our video highlights with each other. Actively participating student can obtain credits for 2-5 for this independent study.
Undergrads: please contact Vicky if you are interested in joining our team. Students that have taken ANTH106 are preferred.
whats happening in the PEMA lab?
fume hood - Lab safety first!
Dec 19th 2018: Good to know that a human dummy is good to use my brand new fume hood without inhaling toxic gases. Hope this level of safety also applies to real humans made of flesh & blood. Lab safety first!
Seth in the field 2017/2018
video by the GMERC team
Field work is what you make of it!