Research overview

Animals must solve a series of problems in life, such as finding food, escaping predation, and raising offspring. One of the main evolutionary adaptations animals have for solving these problems is to interact and form relationships with other members of their species. The goal of our research is to understand the evolutionary costs and benefits of social relationships, especially how these evolutionary consequences pertain to individual health, disease risk, and survival.

Our research follows two main strands

These strands span several levels of biological organization, from populations to whole organisms, and their associated microbes and parasites. We use diverse research techniques, ranging from behavioral observations of wild animals to immunology and noninvasive genetic tools. Our results are relevant to species conservation, the evolution of animal social relationships, as well as human and animal wellbeing.

Research systems

To answer our research questions we work in natural populations of social mammals. Much of our research is on the wild baboons that live in the Amboseli ecosystem, in Kenya, whose lives are followed by the Amboseli Baboon Research Project (ABRP). Beth Archie helps to lead ABRP, along with Jeanne Altmann, Susan Alberts, and Jenny Tung. Founded in 1971, the Amboseli baboons are among the best-known populations of wild primates in the world, with detailed information on individual life histories, social relationships, ecology, and genetics. We also collaborate with the Amboseli Elephant Research Project; led by Cynthia Moss, this group has been working to conserve elephants and understand their behavior since 1972.

Research in the Archie lab involves fieldwork as well as genetic and parasitological work in the lab. When we’re in the field, we observe the behavior of wild mammals and collect samples for genetic analysis—usually from noninvasive sources such as dung. In the lab, we use microscopy and noninvasive genetic tools to characterize the microbes parasites infecting individual animals.

Research strands

How do social organization and behavior influence the spread of infectious organisms?

Group living is thought to have profound effects on individual risk of infection. But to date, empirical research on this topic has been limited by the fact that it is logistically difficult to directly track the movements of infectious agents in wildlife. The Archie lab helps solve this problem by using next-generation sequencing and population genetic tools to map the movements of harmful and beneficial infectious agents onto the social landscapes of wild mammals. Our results are valuable for understanding both the evolutionary costs and benefits of group living, as well as for managing the spread of disease in natural populations. Read more about our recent projects on this topic…

How does an individual’s social context influence their physiology, immune responses, and life span?

Beyond social effects on the spread of infectious agents, social relationships can have powerful connections to other aspects of health. For instance in humans, social status has profound effects on individual stress physiology and immune function. Moreover, social isolation is a powerful predictor of human mortality, with effects comparable to other well-known risk factors, including smoking and obesity. Are these effects shared with other highly social species? What mechanisms underlie these effects? To what extent do social effects on health mediate the connections between social behavior and Darwinian fitness? Read more about our recent projects on this topic…

 

the Archie Lab