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Stuart Altmann

  • Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Position: Emeritus Professor
Title: Lecturer with the rank of Professor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.
Field: Behavior
Stuart Altmann


I study various aspects of behavior, such as social communication, the evolution of mating systems, the energetics of behavior, foraging, and diet selection. These studies deal with what I consider the central problem of behavioral ecology: the ways in which an animal's behavior and social relationships are adapted to the two-fold problem of getting access to essential resources and simultaneously avoiding excess exposure to hazards.
   Most of my studies have been carried out on primates, particularly the baboons of Amboseli National Park, Kenya, and I have also worked with a variety of other mammals and birds. My research focuses on naturalistic behavior as an adaptive process. I use quantitative field studies in a problem-oriented approach, sometimes involving the development and testing of models of behavior.
   My recent research has centered on foraging behavior. How well, for example, do infant mammals meet their nutritional requirements at weaning? As animals move across their home range, how is their foraging behavior affected by the spatial distribution of food plants and by seasonal changes in their growth, flowering, and fruiting? How effective are baboons at displacing other members of their group from food plants on which the victim has already invested considerable labor?
   A recent analysis of fitness-correlates of baboon foraging has turned up a surprising result: several measures of lifetime fitness in female baboons are each highly correlated with what individuals ate years earlier, when they were yearlings, particularly, with how close their actual diets at that age came to the protein and energy content of their energy-maximizing optimal diets.

Selected Publications

2009.  Fallback foods, eclectic omnivores, and the packaging problem. Amer. J. phys. Anthropol., 140:615-629.

2006. Primate foraging adaptations:  two research strategies. Pp. 241-260. in Feeding Ecology in Apes and Other Primates, G. Hohmann, M. M. Robbins & C. Boesch, eds. Cambridge U. Press.

1998. Foraging for Survival: Yearling Baboons in Africa. U. Chicago Press, 609 p. (pb edition 2000).

1989b/1996. The monkey and the fig:  a socratic dialogue on evolutionary themes. Am. Sci. 77: 256-263.  Reprinted 1996 in Readings in the Biological Basis of Human Behavior, 2nd ed., P. Garber & R. Sussman, eds. Simon & Schuster.

1979. Baboon progressions: Order or chaos? A study of one-dimensional group geometry. Anim. Behav. 27(1): 46-80. Erratum 27(3): 962.

1977. Two models for the evolution of polygyny. S. Altmann, S.S. Wagner & S. Lenington. Behav. Ecol. & Sociobiol. 2(4): 397-410.