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Stable Isotope Ecology

With Vicky Oelze (right), PI of the Primate Ecology and Molecular Anthropology Lab (PEMA) at University of California, Santa Cruz, we are investigating the relationship between chimpanzees and Macrotermes termites in the Isaa valley of Tanzania. Led by Seth Phillips, a PhD student in the Oelze lab, this work will address the ecological relationship between Issa chimpanzees and termites, especially the environmental triggers to fishing season and the broader temporal and spatial patterns of fishing. 


Seth has spent two field seasons at Issa, investigating whether swarming behaviour of the Macrotermes alates as well as experimentally replicating termite-fishing behaviour 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. Seth's first manuscript on this work was published in 2021 (see here).

Additionally, understanding the stable isotope ecology of foodwebs, and particularly primates, in miombo woodlands is crucial for the application of isotope biomarkers in the paleodietary analysis of fossil hominins which evolved in comparable landscapes. In a new joint project between Tina Lüdecke (Emmy Noether Group for Hominin Meat Consumption, MPI for Chemistry, Germany), Klervia Jaouen (Environmental Geosciences, University of Toulouse, France), Vicky Oelze and Renee Boucher (Primate Behavior and Molecular Anthropology Lab, UC Santa Cruz, USA) as well as GMERC, we will analyze the nitrogen and zinc stable isotope ratios in tooth enamel of various faunal remains recovered from Issa over the years, including numerous yellow baboon (Papio cynocephalus) and chimpanzee (Pan trogl. schweinfurthii) specimens (see photo below from V. Oelze/GMERC). We seek to understand how these two novel isotope biomarkers for diet and trophic level correspond to various feeding niches and to parallel measurements of oxygen and carbon isotope ratios, with the aim to improve the data interpretation of these innovative isotope systems in the early hominin fossil record of East Africa. 

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