Michelle Brown, PhD
primate behavioral ecology
Michelle Brown, PhD
primate behavioral ecology
I seek to identify the drivers of social variation, with an emphasis on the strategies used in feeding competition among individuals, groups, and species.
I analyze patterns of movement, foraging, communication, and agonism to generate novel insights into the form, function, and consequences of competition.
My team - which includes graduate students, a project manager, and 6 field assistants - studies 11 groups of red-tailed monkeys (Cercopithecus ascanius), 6 groups of blue monkeys (C. mitis), and 7 groups of grey-cheeked mangabeys (Lophocebus albigena). We recently began observations of 1 olive baboon (Papio anubis) and 1 L'Hoest's monkey (Allochrocebus lhoesti) group. Our work occurs mainly at the Ngogo research station in Kibale National Park in western Uganda, and to a lesser extent at several other sites in Uganda, including the Kanyawara research station, Rwengobe forest fragment, and Mabira Forest.
In addition to behavioral observations, we conduct plant reproductive phenology censuses, vertebrate censuses, and playback experiments. We collect urine and feces for analysis of hormones, gastrointestinal parasites, and DNA, which we analyze at the UMNTC Primate Ecology & Energetics Laboratory.
I welcome collaborations and am happy to share the data we have collected. The ranging data is viewable at www.movebank.org; type "NMP" into the search box on the Map or Studies pages to view these datasets.
Logo by @lazaroillustration
We measure biomarkers of energetic condition in a community of fruit-eating forest primates in an attempt to measure the drivers and costs of feeding competition across social and spatio-temporal scales.
[with Ronnie Steinitz]
Why do species with similar diets have such different styles of intergroup conflict? We test old and new hypotheses regarding male and female participation, collective action problems, and territoriality.
[with Leonie Gussone]
What's killing the blue monkeys of Kibale?
We explore the impact of disease, infanticide, and feeding competition on the population dynamics of this generalist species.
[with Revée Jones]
Fieldwork is an important part of some STEM disciplines but is also a major barrier to diversifying these fields. My goal is to create a mechanism to connect post-grads from under-represented minorities with paid, safe, and instructive fieldwork opportunities.
My work is rooted in a deep love of tropical rainforests and their inhabitants. I currently conduct my research in Kibale National Park in western Uganda but have also worked in Gunung Palung National Park in western Borneo, Kakamega Forest in Kenya, and several other sites.
I'm from Chicago and graduated from Harvard University (A.B. in Cognitive Neuroscience in 2000) and Columbia University (Ph.D. in Evolutionary Primatology in 2011). I conducted an NSF-funded postdoctoral project (2011-2014) with ties to the University of New Mexico and began working at UCSB in 2015. However, I was on medical leave for cancer treatment throughout 2015-2016. I begin my new position at the University of Minnesota in the fall of 2023.
I am the founder and Director of the Ngogo Monkey Project, based in Kibale National Park in western Uganda.
Prior to pursuing an academic career, I worked as an intern at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, project manager for the Gunung Palung Orangutan Project, and Papua Coordinator for the Indonesia & Melanesia Programs at Conservation International.
As one of the very few Black Americans in primatology and a first-generation scholar, I am dedicated to diversifying this field by recruiting, training, and mentoring students from under-represented groups in STEM. Do not hesitate to contact me if you are interested in exploring your options in animal behavior, primatology, fieldwork, or biological anthropology.
Scientists do not arise fully formed out of the mist like Botticelli's Venus, and complex skills like statistics are not innate. Nor do scientists create themselves. Instead, they are cultivated over time through extensive mentorship, hands-on experiences, and collegial discussion to promote mutual growth. The skills that make a scientist cannot be taught in a day: though they can be illuminated quickly, learning these skills takes repeated effort over time to become second nature. These skills are critical thinking (both constructive and deconstructive), creativity, hypothesis generation and testing, organized thinking about data, scientific writing, and yes, quantitative analysis.
I believe that every student has the capacity to become a scientist. I say this from personal experience, having been a child whose fear and frustration in science and math classes caused me to do poorly in these topics. It wasn't until I started working under the mentorship of a scientist that I overcame my fears and learned how to work through the frustration, and ultimately came to embrace STEM topics. As a result of this early shaping and continuing experiences, I believe that everyone else has the potential to acquire the scientific perspective and that it can dramatically improve our thinking.
I renounce the idea that the typical scientist is cold, logical, and reductionist. On the contrary, the best scientists are passionate, creative, and see multitudes of possibilities. These traits are, in fact, critical in order to survive the manifold challenges of pursuing a career in research.
In teaching and mentoring, my goal is to start students on the path of scientific thinking by
(1) making the elements of the scientific process clear, simple, and a lot less scary; and
(2) cultivating the excitement and curiosity in others that drives my daily pursuits.