Fulbright Scholar and biological anthropologist Wendy Erb visiting New Zealand

In May 2017, Dr Wendy Erb is giving a series of lectures on her research at the University of Auckland, Massey University, and AUT University. Dr Erb is a biological anthropologist broadly interested in reproductive competition and cooperation in wild primates. Her research spans the fields of sexual selection, animal  communication, ecology, physiology, and conservation biology, as she investigates the proximate and ultimate bases of behavior and how these are influenced by environmental change and human disturbance. She is currently a Fulbright Scholar to Indonesia.

Candid calls: ecological, energetic, and anthropogenic influences on primate long-range signals

Wednesday 3 May 2017, Massey University (time and venue TBC)

In most mammals, females invest much more than males into reproduction, yet male investment in mating effort does not necessarily come cheaply. For example, some primate males utilize long-distance vocalizations as a critical component of their mating strategies. If these calls are physically or energetically constrained, they may be honest signals of male quality. I studied male reproductive strategies in two Indonesian primates: a leaf-eating colobine (simakobu, Simias concolor) and a fruit-eating great ape (Bornean orangutan, Pongo pyg- maeus). Males in both of these very different taxa use long calls, but are these vocalizations costly signals or cheap talk? Taking a multifaceted approach, I incorporated data on the environment, nutrition, health, energetics, hormones, parasites, social behavior, and bioacoustics to understand the processes underlying the reliability of these sexually selected displays. 

Dr Wendy Erb

Dr Wendy Erb

No smoke without fire: Borneo’s burning forests and the future of the orangutan

Thursday 4 May 2017, 12-1pm
AUT University, Room WT1440

Widespread peatland forest fires resulted in a thick haze of wildfire smoke that covered Central Kalimantan between August and October 2015. In addition to greenhouse gases, this smoke contains a number of hazardous components, including carbon monoxide, known to affect human health. I studied the effects of this smoke on the behavior and health of Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus wurmbii). Similar to humans, orangutans appear to be affected by prolonged exposure to smoke, exhibiting changes in their voice quality, behavior, and energy balance. I will share my experiences as both firefighter and scientist during this environmental disaster, and discuss the implications of recurring peatland fires for the conservation of Indonesia’s wild orangutan populations. 

Change is the only constant: behavioral and energetic responses of Indonesia’s primates to ecological and anthropogenic pressures

Thursday 4 May 2017, 4-5pm
University of Auckland (room TBC)

The tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia are dynamic ecosystems that undergo dramatic environmental changes. These forests uniquely exhibit unpredictable masting events that produce dramatic between-year variation in fruit production. In addition to these natural cycles, human-caused climate change and other anthropogenic factors, including habitat loss and hunting, create rapidly changing environments. I studied the effects of these ecological and anthropogenic changes on the reproduction, grouping patterns, vocalizations, and health in two species of Indonesian primates – a leaf-eating colobine (simakobu, Simias concolor) and a fruit-eating great ape (Bornean orangutan, Pongo pygmaeus).