School of Anthropology & Conservation

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Dr Brandon Wheeler

Lecturer in Biological Anthropology

Primates; behavioural ecology; socioecology; communication; predation; feeding competition; cognition


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I am a behavioral ecologist broadly interested in the costs and benefits associated with group-living among primates, especially in terms of predation risk, feeding competition and infanticide by males. More specifically, I am interested in the role of communication in moderating these costs and facilitating the benefits. I conduct fieldwork on wild tufted capuchin monkeys in Iguazú National Park, Argentina. My work uses a largely experimental approach, combined with acoustic and hormonal analyses, to understand social behaviour from both ultimate (i.e. adaptive) and proximate (e.g. cognitive and physiological) levels.

Before arriving at Kent, I received my BA from the University of Arkansas and Ph.D. from Stony Brook University. Following that, I was a postdoc in the Cognitive Ethology Lab at the German Primate Center. In addition to my work in Argentina, I have conducted fieldwork with primates in Thailand, Costa Rica, and Madagascar.

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Selected Publications

Wheeler, B.C., Tiddi, B. & Heistermann, M. (2014) Competition-induced stress does not explain deceptive alarm calling in tufted capuchin monkeys. Animal Behaviour 93: 49-58. pdf available via open access

Wheeler, B.C., Scarry, C.J. & Koenig, A. (2013) Rates of agonism among female primates: a cross-taxon perspective. Behavioral Ecology 24: 1369-1380. pdf available via open access

Wheeler, B.C. & Hammerschmidt, K. (2013). Proximate factors underpinning receiver responses to deceptive false alarm calls in wild tufted capuchin monkeys: Is it counterdeception? American Journal of Primatology 75: 715-725. pdf available via open access

Wheeler, B.C. and Fischer, J. (2012) Functionally referential signals: a promising paradigm whose time has passed. Evolutionary Anthropology 21: 195-205.

Wheeler, B.C. (2009). Monkeys crying wolf? Tufted capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella nigritus) use anti-predator calls to usurp resources from conspecifics. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B: Biological Sciences 276: 3013-3018. pdf freely available

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Modules Convened

  • SE580 – Primate Behavioural Ecology (Spring 2015)

I also contribute to:

  • SE302: Foundations of Biological Anthropology
  • SE567: Methods in Anthropological Science

and supervise student research in:

  • SE533: Project in Anthropological Science

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I am broadly interested in the behavioural ecology of nonhuman primates. My current work in Iguazú, Argentina aims to test whether capuchins acquire recognition of heterospecific alarm calls through associative and/or social learning. In addition, I am working in collaboration with Barbara Tiddi to investigate aspects of female sexual signalling and mate choice among capuchins. Beyond fieldwork, I am using modeling and phylogenetic comparative analyses to test and refine socioecological models of primate evolution. My interest in predation on primates has also led me to work on side projects focused on understanding what, if anything, primate alarm calls can tell us about the evolution of human language, as well as understanding the role of predators on the evolution of the primate visual system.

Current research projects

Proximate mechanisms underlying tactical deception and counter-deception in capuchin monkeys: stress and skepticism?

Modeling the group size effect on individual predation risk among non-human primates

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  • Caroline Howlett: 'Expression of the 2D:4D digit ratio across the Primate Order'
  • Adriana Lowe: 'Maternal strategies in wild Ugandan chimpanzees'
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PublicationI have worked with the BBC for the Monkey Planet series and World Service for segments on deceptive communication in capuchin monkeys. I am able to provide commentary and discussion on topics related to capuchin monkeys, primatology, animal deception and animal communication.

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Last Updated: 24/08/2016