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We are interested in the functional structure of relationships within a community, focusing particularly on the context of primate-plant interactions and host-parasite relationships.

Primate-plant interactions

Distribution over all tropical regions of the world, except Australia and Oceania, distinguishes primates from other tropical mammals. Within their tropical habitats, primates interact with a variety of organisms and carry out a multitude of environmental functions. One functional role of primates is their role as seed dispersers of those plant species they use for fruit consumption.
Therefore, seed dispersal is one of the foci of our department’s ecological studies. We combine observations with techniques of molecular genetics to determine the origin (mother tree) of seeds spread by primates.
This allows us to analyze the spatial patterns of seed dispersal and their consequences for plant populations.

Current Projects

Patterns and determinants of seed dispersal by tamarins and other Neotropical primates
(Long-term project; in cooperation with Laurence Culot, UNESP, Brazil)

Culot L, Huynen M-C, Heymann EW (2015) Partitioning the relative contribution of one-phase and two-phase seed dispersal when evaluating seed dispersal effectiveness. Methods in Ecology and Evolution 6: 178-186.

Culot L, Huynen M-C, Heymann EW (2018) Primates and dung beetles: two dispersers are better than one in secondary forest. International Journal of Primatology  (in Druck).

Heymann EW, Culot L, Knogge C, Noriega Piña TE, Tirado Herrera ER, Klapproth M, Zinner D (2017) Long-term consistency in spatial patterns of primate seed dispersal. Ecology and Evolution 7: 1435–1441.

Consequences of primate seed dispersal on the spatial-genetic structure of a Neotropical tree (Leonia cymosa)
(in cooperation with Katrin Heer, Philipps-University Marburg)

Gelmi-Candusso TAHeymann EW, Heer K (2017) Effects of zoochory on the spatial genetic structure of plant populations. Molecular Ecology 26: 5896–5910.

Vertical stratification of interactions between frugivorous and nectarivorous consumers and the cauligenous liana, Marcgravia longifolia
(in cooperation with Katrin Heer, Philipps-University Marburg; Marco Tschapka, University of Ulm; Manuel Flores Arevalo, Universidad Nacional de la Amazonía Peruana, Iquitos, Peru)

The allometry of seed dispersal by primates
(in cooperation with Pierre-Michel Forget, MNHN, Brunoy, France, Joanna Lambert, University of Colorado, Boulder, USA)

Interspecific interactions and niche differentiation

Heymann EW, Hsia SS (2015) Unlike fellows - a review of primate-non-primate associations. Biological Reviews 90: 142-156.

Heymann EW, Nadjafzadeh M (2013) Insectivory and prey foraging in titi monkeys - a case study of Callicebus cupreus and a comparison to other pitheciids. In: Veiga LM, Barnett AA, Ferrari SF, Norconk MA (eds) Evolutionary biology and conservation of titis, sakis and uacaris. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 215-224.

Heymann EW (2011) Coordination in primate mixed-species troops. In: Boos M, Kolbe M, Kappeler PM, Ellwart T (eds) Coordination in human and primate groups. Springer, Heidelberg, pp 263-281.

Nadjafzadeh MN, Heymann EW (2008) Prey foraging of red titi monkeys, Callicebus cupreus, in comparison to sympatric tamarins, Saguinus mystax and Saguinus fuscicollis. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 135: 56-63.


Finished Projects

Chemical ecology of primate seed dispersal
(concluded PhD project by Omer Nevo; in cooperation with Manfred Ayasse, Universität Ulm)

Nevo O, Heymann EW (2015) Led by the nose: olfaction in primate foraging ecology. Evolutionary Anthropology 24: 137-148.

Nevo O, Heymann EW, Schulz S, Ayasse M (2016) Fruit odor as a ripeness signal for seed-dispersing primates? A case study on four Neotropical plant species. Journal of Chemical Ecology 42: 323-328.

Nevo O, Orts Garri R, Ayasse M, Hernandez Salazar LT, Heymann EW, Schulz S, Laska M (2015) Chemical recognition of fruit ripeness in spider monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi). Scientific Reports 5: 14895.

Effect of tamarin seed dispersal on the spatial-genetic population structure of a Neotropical legume species
(in coooperation with Birgit Ziegenhagen and Ronald Bialozyt, University of Marburg)

Heymann EW, Luettmann K, Michalczyk IM, Pinedo Saboya PP, Ziegenhagen B, Bialozyt R (2012) DNA fingerprinting validates seed dispersal curves from observational studies in the Neotropical legume Parkia. PLoS One 7: e35480.

Bialozyt R, Luettmann K, Michalczyk IM, Pinedo Saboya PP, Ziegenhagen B, Heymann EW (2014) Primate seed dispersal leaves spatial genetic imprint throughout subsequent life stages of the Neotropical tree Parkia panurensis. Trees 28: 1569-1575.

Bialozyt R, Flinkerbusch S, Niggemann M, Heymann EW (2014) Predicting the seed shadows of a Neotropical tree species dispersed by primates using an agent-based model with internal decision making for movements. Ecological Modelling 278: 74-84.


Host-parasite relationships

Free-living primates are permanently exposed to a wide range of parasites that extract their hosts’ energy and sometimes trigger or transmit diseases.
Other microorganisms, however, can be very useful to the host, e.g. as part of the gastrointestinal microbiota. We are interested in the evolutionary race and relationship between the primate hosts and their parasites, particularly in genetic and behavioral adjustments that primates use to decrease their parasitic infestation, and in the determinants of transmission and the composition of microorganisms in free-living lemur species.

Current Projects

Consequences of variation in group size on the health of Verreaux's Sifakas
(Katja Rudolph)

Social relationships: key to gut microbiome composition in wild red-fronted lemurs
(Tatiana Murillo Corrales, in collaboration with R. Daniel, University of Göttingen)

Hygienic behavior in gray mouse lemurs
(Clémence Poirotte)

Consequences of telomere length variation in Labord's chameleon
(Falk Eckhardt)

Finished Projects


Springer A, Kappeler PM, Nunn CL (2017) Dynamic vs. static social networks in models of parasite transmission: predicting Cryptosporidium spread in wild lemurs. Journal of Animal Ecology 86: 419-433.

Springer A, Fichtel C, Al-Ghalith GA, Koch F, Amato KR, Clayton JB, Knights D, Kappeler PM (2017) Patterns of seasonality and group membership characterize the gut microbiota in a longitudinal study of wild Verreaux's sifakas (Propithecus verreauxi). Ecology and Evolution 7: 5732-5745.

Springer A, Mellmann A, Fichtel C, Kappeler PM (2016) Social structure and Escherichia coli sharing in a group-living wild primate, Verreaux’s sifaka. BMC Ecology 16: 6.

Springer A, Kappeler PM (2016) Intestinal parasite communities of six sympatric lemur species at Kirindy Forest, Madagascar. Primate Biol 3: 51-63.

Poirotte C, Massol F, Herbert A, Willaume E, Bomo PM, Kappeler PM, Charpentier MJE (2017) Mandrills use olfaction to socially avoid parasitized conspecifics. Science Advances 3: e1601721.

Poirotte C, Benhamou S, Mandjembe A, Willaume E, Kappeler PM, Charpentier MJE (2017) Gastrointestinal parasitism and recursive movements in free-ranging mandrills. Animal Behaviour 134: 87-98.

Poirotte C, Kappeler PM, Ngoubangoye B, Bourgeois S, Moussodji M, Charpentier MJE (2016) Morbid attraction to leopard urine in Toxoplasma-infected chimpanzees. Current Biology 26: R98-R99.

Beaulieu M, Benoit L, Abaga S, Kappeler PM, Charpentier MJE (2017) Mind the cell: Seasonal variation in telomere length mirrors changes in leucocyte profile. Molecular Ecology 26: 5603-5613.

Rakotoniaina J, Kappeler P, Ravoniarimbinina P, Pechauskova E, Hämäläinen A, Grass J, Kirschbaum C, Kraus C (2016) Does habitat disturbance affect stress, body condition and parsitism in two sympatric lemurs? Conservation Physiology 4: cow034.