sohapi group

In the research group entitled "Sociality and Health in Primates", eight scientists from Göttingen, Berlin and Leipzig investigate the effects that group living has on the health of wild lemurs, monkeys and apes. Initiator and spokesperson for the research group is the behavioral scientist Peter Kappeler, who has a joint professorship at the University of Göttingen and the German Primate Center (DPZ). Initially, the German Research Foundation (DFG) will support the project for three years with a total 1.5 million euros.

The scientists of the research group want to investigate how social stress, friendships, and other aspects of the social system affect susceptibility to and the transfer of pathogens. For example, socially well-integrated individual baboons and humans have longer lives whereas socially stressed or isolated individuals have shorter lives and produce fewer offspring. Very little research has been done on the physiological mechanisms that mediate these positive or negative effects.

Human clinical studies have shown that health plays an important role in mediating the interactions between the social system and life expectancy. However, the data on the relative importance of social factors, how social roles or positions in social networks influence disease susceptibility and how social stress modulates these relationships is not sufficient. In addition, very little information is available on the social factors that encourage the transmission and spread of pathogens. “These studies provide an important opportunity to characterize the relevance of social variables on the well-being and health, since for ethical reasons many social variables in clinical trials cannot be measured directly”, says Peter Kappeler. "In addition, the projects of this research unite contribute basic information to topics such as "Stress and health" or "The spreading of pathogens", such as for example factory farming or the transmission of pathogens between humans and animals with economic and conservation biological relevance."

In six research projects, scientists from the DPZ, the University of Göttingen, the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (Leipzig) and the Robert Koch Institute (Berlin), examine what the effects of social variables, such as group size, dominance rank, social support, and mating strategies are on the different aspects and indicators of health. To this, the scientists additionally look at stress hormones, parasite burden and physiological balance in wild lemurs, macaques, baboons, gorillas and chimpanzees. Also researched in these projects is the transmission of infectious pathogens within and between social units, which represents a further ecologically relevant aspect of the interactions between social systems and healthcare.