Wendy Erb

Postdoctoral Fellow

Expertise

Primatology • Animal Behavior • Tropical Field Ecology • Conservation • Bioacoustics

As a tropical field and behavioral ecologist, I am broadly interested in the environmental and physiological influences on the behavioral and reproductive strategies of wildlife. My diverse collaborative research program combines natural history, ecology, animal behavior, and conservation, tied together by a deep curiosity about how wildlife populations are affected by environmental variation and change. My research has spanned more than a decade to investigate the behavioral strategies of langurs, tamarins, orangutans, and gibbons. Though much of my work is conducted in tropical forests, I often incorporate lab-based methods, including bioacoustics, GIS, endocrinology, and parasitology.

Indonesia’s rainforests are dynamic and unpredictable habitats that are experiencing extremely rapid and severe human-driven changes. For the last 14 years, these forests have been fertile ground for answering questions about how endangered primates respond and adapt to changing environments. On Siberut Island, I conducted a two-year study of a little-known odd-nosed monkey (Simias concolor), documenting the impact of shifting food availability and human disturbance on their behavior, reproduction, and demography. I found that poaching altered group size and structure, highlighting the need for conservation action to reduce the hunting of this critically endangered species.

Since 2013, I have investigated the behavioral and reproductive ecology of Bornean orangutans, and have documented the effects of low fruit availability, negative energy balance, and high temperatures on their behavior and health. After working on the front lines to fight Borneo’s devastating 2015 peat fires, I am particularly interested in the health and conservation impacts of wildfires and smoke. Indonesia’s endangered apes are not only iconic flagships for conservation but also effective sentinel species that indicate environmental health.

Since both gibbons and orangutans produce high-amplitude vocalizations, passive acoustic monitoring holds great potential as a time- and cost-effective method to study and monitor their populations. Last year, I launched a study of ape populations in a threatened Bornean landscape and am developing new international collaborations to launch complementary projects in additional regions in Indonesia. The goal of these projects is to examine the spatiotemporal dynamics of endangered populations in response to habitat variation and emerging threats—including energy development, mining, logging, hunting, and urbanization. Collectively, my projects have a strong conservation focus and incorporate community engagement and public outreach as integral components.

Education

2012, Ph.D., Anthropological Sciences, Stony Brook University
2001, B.S., Zoology, The Ohio State University

Surprising factoid

Indonesia is an archipelago of 17,508 islands (including 3 of the 6 largest islands in the world) where about 300 different indigenous languages are spoken, it is the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, and is among the top 3 countries for primate biodiversity on Earth!

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