The Amboseli Baboon Research Project: 40 Years of Continuity and Change

  • Susan C. Alberts
  • Jeanne AltmannEmail author


In 1963, Jeanne and Stuart Altmann traveled through Kenya and Tanzania searching for a baboon study site. They settled on the Maasai-Amboseli Game Reserve (later Amboseli National Park) and conducted a 13-month study that laid the groundwork for much future research. They returned for a short visit in 1969, and came again in July 1971 to establish a research project that has persisted for four decades. In July 1984 Susan Alberts joined the field team, later becoming a graduate student and eventually a director. Over the years, we have tackled research questions ranging from feeding ecology to behavioral endocrinology, from kin recognition to sexual selection, and from aging research to functional genetics. A number of our results have explicitly depended upon the longitudinal nature of the research. Without decades worth of individual-based data we would not have known, for instance, that the presence of fathers influenced the maturation rates of their offspring, that maternal dominance rank had pervasive effects on the physiology of sons, or that the social behavior of a female influenced her infants’ survival. Here we summarize the major research themes that have characterized each of the past four decades, and our directions for the future, emphasizing the scientific insights that the longitudinal nature of the study has made possible.


Dominance Rank Male Reproductive Success Alpha Male Male Mate Choice Yellow Baboon 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We gratefully acknowledge the National Science Foundation for generous support over the years, most recently through DEB 0846286 and DEB 0919200 to S.C. Alberts, DEB 0846532 to J. Altmann, and IOS 1053461 to E. Archie. We are also very grateful for support from the National Institute of Aging (R01AG034513-01 and P01AG031719). We also thank the Princeton Center for the Demography of Aging (funded through P30AG024361), the Chicago Zoological Society, the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, the L.S.B. Leakey Foundation and the National Geographic Society for support at various times over the years.

We thank the Kenya Wildlife Services, Institute of Primate Research, National Museums of Kenya, and members of the Amboseli-Longido pastoralist communities for their cooperation and assistance in Kenya. A number of people, too numerous to list here, have contributed to the long-term data collection over the years, and we are grateful to all of them for their dedication and contributions. Particular thanks go to Stuart Altmann, the late Amy Samuels, and the Amboseli Baboon Project long-term field team (Raphael S. Mututua, Serah N. Sayialel, and J. Kinyua Warutere), as well as to Vera Somen and Tim Wango for their untiring assistance in Nairobi.

Karl Pinc has provided expertise in database design and management for many years and we are grateful for his seminal contributions to the development of Babase. We also thank the database technicians who have provided assistance with Babase over the years, most recently D. Onderdonk, C. Markham, T. Fenn, N. Learn, and L. Maryott. Our Amboseli research is approved by the IACUC at Princeton University and at Duke University and has adhered to all the laws and guidelines of Kenya.


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyDuke UniversityDurhamUSA
  2. 2.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyPrinceton UniversityPrincetonUSA

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