Dr. Melissa



    I am a biological anthropologist who studies gorilla behavioral ecology and primate conservation in sub-Saharan Africa.  Much of my research has focused on the feeding ecology, locomotion and nutrition of wild gorillas at the Dzanga-Sangha Forest Reserve, Central African Republic (CAR).  I also maintain an experimentally based research program on the evolution of feeding strategies among the African apes which relies on research on captive apes in zoological facilities.

    I am also working on a collaborative project on the impacts of multiple human disturbances on 5 groups of mammals (primates, carnivores, ungulates, rodents and shrews) in the Congo Basin. This research addresses both wildlife and human dimensions of ecosystem change.  It contributes to our understanding of vulnerable ape populations, the ungulates and others which constitute the protein base for the region, changing subsistence patterns, hunting and logging practices and forest fragmentation. 

    My long-term collaboration with cultural anthropologist, Dr. Rebecca Hardin of University of Michigan at Ann Arbor works to integrate both cultural and biological anthropological approaches to environmental anthropology, animal-human interaction and conflict.  We collaborate with members of the University of Bangui, Ecosynergy group, for integrative social and ecological science research on problems in the environment.   We have trained US and Central African University students and local research assistants in ecological and anthropological field methods and analysis.  We are analyzing 20 years of wildlife census and ethnographic data 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.

    I work with recent Purdue graduate Dr. Lesley Daspit, who recently completed her dissertation on bushmeat sellers and wildlife markets in the Dzanga Sangha Reserve. Through ethnographic research, she examined the ways in which wildlife commerce and conservation in Central Africa become gendered.   I am working with Ph.D. Candidate Brandi Wren, who is exploring links between social behavior of vervet monkeys and gastrointestinal parasite risk in South Africa, specifically the effects of social grooming on parasitic infection patterns. I work with Ph.D. Candidate Carolyn Jost on the interrelationships between people and forest mammals in CAR, with a focus on sustainable use of forest resources and implications for human nutrition and health.  I am currently advising Ph.D. Candidate Katie Smith, who is examining the diet, nutrition, and well-being of zoo-housed gorillas. I am also working with Sarah Soffer on mouse lemur and sportive lemur ecology at Beza Mahafaly Special Reserve, Madagascar. I am currently developing a project with Ph.D. student Andrea Holmes on the dietary and social factors related to regurgitation and reingestion in captive gorillas.


Research Interests


Professor of Anthropology

University Faculty Scholar

Dept. of Anthropology

Purdue Interdisciplinary Center for Environmental Sustainability (PICES)

Purdue University


Dept. of Anthropology

700 W. State St., Suite 219

Purdue University

  1. W.Lafayette, IN 47907-2059

Email me


Ph.D., 1994

    Yale University

M.Phil., 1990

    Yale University

B.A., 1986

    University of California,

    Santa Cruz  

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