Dr. Melissa



    I am a biological anthropologist who studies great ape behavioral ecology, human-animal relationships, nutrition and conservation in sub-Saharan Africa.  I have a long-standing research program on the feeding ecology, locomotion and conservation of gorillas at the Dzanga-Sangha Forest Reserve, Central African Republic (CAR).  I maintain an experimentally based research program on the evolution of feeding strategies among the African apes.
    My current collaborative research integrates qualitative and quantiative approaches, field and lab approaches to address both wildlife and human dimensions of ecosystem change. I have published on the impacts of multiple human disturbances, especially hunting and logging on mammals in the Congo Basin. The research contributes to our understanding of vulnerable ape populations, the ungulates and others which constitute the protein base for the region, hunting and logging practices forest fragmentation. My newer work examines changing subsistence practices and consequences for the diets and health of hunter-gatherer populations in transition to mixed economies. 
   Much of this work has been conducted in long-term collaboration with cultural anthropologist, Dr. Rebecca Hardin of University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and former PhD students now at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Dr. Carolyn A. Jost Robinson (Purdue PhD 2012)and Dr. Lesley Daspit (Purdue PhD 2011) . We integrate cultural and biological anthropological approaches to environmental anthropology, animal-human interaction and conflict.  We have examined the wildlife trade from perspective of hunters and sellers of wild game meat in local and urban markets. We collaborate with Central African researchers and have trained US and Central African University students and local research assistants in field methods and analysis.  We analyze long-term wildlife census, ethnographic interview and diet survey and biological data (lab-based analyses of hemoglobin, parasites and inflammation) to understand the impact of conservation efforts on the human and wildlife populations in Dzanga-Sangha Forest and to contribute to improvements in international approaches to conservation management and food security. We are expanding this work on human-wildlife relationships to other forests in the Congo Basin, including Korup National Park in Cameroon. My ongoing experimental behavioral and nutritional research with Dr. Katie Smith (Purdue PHD 2012) works to improve the dietary health and well being of captive zoo- housed apes in North America. I worked with Dr. Brandi Wren (PHD 2013) on her research on the evolution of sociality, grooming and parasites among vervet monkeys in South Africa.


I have two current graduate students (Elizabeth Hall MS student (2013-) and Savannah Schulze PHD student (2014-) who are working on chimpanzee and gorilla health and human-ape relationships and conservation issues in and around protected areas in sub-Saharan Africa.



Research Interests


Professor of Anthropology

Interim Department Head

Dept. of Anthropology

The Center for Environment Purdue

Purdue University


Dept. of Anthropology

700 W. State St., Suite 219

Purdue University

  1. W.Lafayette, IN 47907-2059

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Ph.D., 1994

    Yale University

M.Phil., 1990

    Yale University

B.A., 1986

    University of California,

    Santa Cruz  


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