Verhaltensökologie

PD Dr. Oliver Schülke

Research Interests

My main interest is the evolution of social relationships, i.e. patterns of cooperation and conflict between individuals living in the same and in different groups. With natural selection and sexual selection being the main mechanisms of evolution, my research involves investigation of the costs and benefits associated with supporting another individual in terms of survival and differential reproduction. Hence, I study the accumulative, the long-term effects of repeated interactions among the same individuals.

Ever since my first independent project, I investigated the effect of resource characteristics on patterns of competition. I believe that without a good grasp on what is at stake it will be impossible to understand whether and how individuals cooperate. Selection for cooperation should be strongest where the potential benefit is the largest. Across primates it is usually the females paying the burden of lactation and gestation, hence male reproductive success is limited mainly by access to fertile females and that of females mainly by access to food resources. Since food and fertile females are fundamentally different resources it seems likely that cooperative behaviors evolved along different lines in males and females. I address this issue in studies on the causes and consequences of both food competition among females living in their natural habitat and of male mate competition in the same species.

Together with Julia Ostner I direct a field project on the social evolution of wild macaques in Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary where we study four groups of Assamese macaques since 2005 (more) with a diverse set of methods from plant ecology, non-invasive genetics, and field endocrinology

At the Leibniz Science Campus Primate Cognition I collaborate on studies asking how Rhesus macaques collect social information by selectively focusing attention on different types of social interactions with involving different others and how social knowledge is used by male Barbary macaques.

With Gottfried Hohmann and Tobias Deschner at the Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI-EVA) in Leipzig I collaborate (DFG SCHU1554/3-1) in a study on the costs and benefits of sociality in female bonobos (Pan paniscus) using the same feeding ecological methods we applied to the study of competition in macaques.

In a DFG Research Training Group (RTG 2070) on Understanding Social Relationships, that brings together psychologists and behavioral ecologists that focus on human and nonhuman primate social cognition, I contribute with a project on the role of personality in social bond formation.

In the DFG Research Unit (FOR 2136 ) Sociality and Health in Primates we have united scientists from University of Göttingen and the German Primate Center, the MPI-EVA in Leipzig and the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin in their effort to elucidate the role of individual health in mediating the link between sociality and fitness in wild lemurs, monkeys, and apes. I am a Co-PI in an experimental study on the susceptibility to and effects of gastrointestinal parasite infection in Barbary macaques at Affenberg Salem.