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Robert Pringle

Department/Program(s):
  • Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Position: Assistant Professor
Area(s):
  • Ecology
Office: 221 Guyot Hall
Phone: 609-258-8273
Robert Pringle



I seek to understand how direct and indirect species interactions (predation, herbivory, competition, mutualism) combine with abiotic factors (climate, habitat heterogeneity) to determine the diversity and abundance of species at multiple scales. My method is rooted in natural history and manipulative field experiments and supplemented by whatever computational, isotopic, molecular, remote-sensing, and social-scientific approaches are necessary to understand the mechanisms underlying phenomena in nature. Most of this work is done in the savannas of eastern and southern Africa.

My current work focuses on three interrelated sets of questions. First, what are the functional roles of large mammals in savanna systems, how are these functional roles contingent upon climate, and what are the ecological consequences of large-mammal extinction? My lab is working on these questions in central Kenya (where since 2008 we have been excluding different large-herbivore species from a series of 1-ha plots replicated across a rainfall gradient) and Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park, where large-mammal populations are recovering following near-extinction of many species from 1977-1994.

Second, how does self-organized spatial pattern arise in landscapes, and what are the consequences of this patterning for animal behavior and ecosystem functioning? Throughout much of Africa, termite mounds occur in strikingly overdispersed spatial patterns. We know that these patterns are ubiquitous and ecologically important, yet we have limited understanding of how they arise and what emergent effects they have at the ecosystem scale. Work here is also concentrated in Kenya and Mozambique.

Finally, I am using small experimental islands in the Bahamas to extend classic work about how invasive predators and competitors affect the behavior, population dynamics, and coexistence of Anolis lizards, and how interactions among lizards propagate to influence island food webs more generally.


To learn more about Robert Pringle, read this Harvard Magazine profile.

Representative Publications

Goheen, JR, TM Palmer, GK Charles, KM Helgen, SN Kinyua, JE Maclean, HS Young, and RM Pringle. 2013. Piecewise disassembly of a large-herbivore community across a rainfall gradient: the UHURU experiment. PLoS One: revised & resubmitted.

Donihue, CM, LM Porensky, J Foufopoulos, C Riginos, and RM Pringle. 2013. Glade cascades: indirect legacy effects of pastoralism enhance the abundance and spatial structuring of arboreal fauna. Ecology: in press.

Pringle, RM, DF Doak, AK Brody, R Jocqué, and TM Palmer. 2010. Spatial pattern enhances ecosystem functioning in an African savanna. PLoS Biology 8:e1000377.

Pringle, RM and K Fox-Dobbs. 2008. Coupling of canopy and understory food webs by ground-dwelling predators. Ecology Letters 11:1328-1337.

Pringle, RM. 2008. Elephants as agents of habitat creation for small vertebrates at the patch scale. Ecology 89:26-33.

Pringle, RM, TP Young, DI Rubenstein, and DJ McCauley. 2007. Herbivore-initiated interaction cascades and their modulation by productivity in an African savanna. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 104:193-197.

Pringle, RM, JK Webb, and R Shine. 2003. Canopy structure, microclimate, and habitat selection by the nocturnal snake Hoplocephalus bungaroides. Ecology 84:2668-2679.