Team of the LuiKotale Bonobo Project

Prof. Dr. Barbara Fruth

Group Leader
IMPRS Board Member
IMPRS Faculty
+49 7531-94505-20

I am a behavioural ecologist and evolutionary anthropologist, interested in bonobo social behaviour, their ecological constraints, their role within the ecosystem, and their life history. One of my foci is their food repertoire ranging from items ingested for nutritional to those used for medicinal purpose. For this, I follow an interdisciplinary approach integrating herbaria, analyses of plant’s phytochemical and pharmacological properties, and their effect on growth, health and fitness of individual bonobos.

Nutritional Ecology • Conservation • Life history • Community Ecology • Bonobos


Nadia Balduccio

IMPRS Doctoral Student

I am an ecologist specialized in tropical ecosystems. I investigated a diverse array of wildlife in South America, Africa and Asia, putting conservation at the forefront of my work. In my PhD, I focus on the effect of human (Homo sapiens) hunting on mammal abundance and movement patterns. In the wider study site of the LuiKotale Bonobo Project, DRC, I assess the mammal community across areas that have been protected for different lengths of time.

Conservation • Monitoring • Mammal Community • Hunting

Dr. Mattia Bessone


I am a postdoctoral ecologist in the team of Prof. Dr. Barbara Fruth, interested in understanding the factors influencing the viability of wildlife populations, with a focus on Central Africa and the Congo Basin. In my current project, financed by the University of Konstanz via the Centre for the Advanced Study of Collective Behaviour, I aim to integrate human hunters as a factor, evaluating their role in driving prey behaviour and population dynamics, but also to highlight the importance of wildlife for the livelihood of local people. My ambition is to assess the sustainability of wildlife hunting by understanding ongoing predator-prey dynamics, including traditional practices and socio-economic aspects. In close collaboration with the LuiKotale Bonobo Project, I conduct my research in the Province of Mai-Ndombe, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where I work in collaboration with six villages, representing approximatively 400 households.

Monitoring methods Predator-prey Wildlife use Conservation

Beguide Bobo Naom Daov

MSc Student

I am a Master-Student at the University of Bourgogne (France). In the frame of the CASCB supported focus on the “Ecological and social triggers of human (predator) and animal (prey) movement patterns in Central DRC, I joined the LuiKotale Bonobo Project (LKBP) in 2023.  I captured, collared and radio-tracked three species of duiker (Cephalophus spp.). With support of an ERASMUS+ mobility scholarship, I am now in the group led by Barbara Fruth to investigate data of spatial use, home range and activity of the three duiker species.

Francesca Decina

IMPRS Doctoral Student

I am interested in mechanisms driving sexual selection, the strategies of individuals to overcome constrains deriving from intra-sexual mate competition and mate choice. In my PhD I will investigate the strategies of male bonobos to enhanced mating and reproductive success and the response of females towards different male mating strategies. I am also interested in the nature of social relationships between males and females, and how demography and kinship affect life history profiles and fitness of individual males.

Mating strategies Reproductive success Social relationships

Dr. Gottfried Hohmann

Research Scientist

My current research focuses on life history strategies and ontogenic processes. I am interested in the mechanism driving age-related changes in somatic growth, reproductive maturation, migration, and social behavior. How does parental effort affect individual life history profiles of mother and offspring, and to what extent are individual life histories influenced by demographic traits?

DevelopmentReproductive StrategiesDemography Social Relationships

Dr. Melodie Kreyer


My research interest is disease transmission in wild primates and I am involved in field studies on bonobos (Pan paniscus) and mandrills (Mandrillus sphinx). Africa experiences profound environmental changes posing challenges to wild animals in general and wild primates in particular. Most species of nonhuman primates are exposed to habitat changes due to human encroachment. Apart from habitat loss, the vicinity to human settlements increases the risk for transmission of human pathogens. Using physiological markers that are indicative of changing health status, I am interested in how the deterioration of health affects social behavioral, feeding, activity patterns, and reproduction.

Bonobo Health Self-medication Sickness behavior

Sonya Pashchevskaya

IMPRS Doctoral Student

My main interest is social behaviour of bonobos (Pan paniscus): its evolution, structure and functions. I am fascinated by the dynamics of bonobo networks: how their properties change with ecological factors and how individuals’ positions vary in the potential influence on network structure. Using my mathematical background, I apply social network analysis to study global and local patterns of associations and interactions between individuals within a community. For my MSc thesis, I focused on how network characteristics influence disease spread in the bonobos of LuiKotale. 

Bonobo Network analysis Social behaviour

Kathrine Stewart

IMPRS Doctoral Student

I am a behavioral ecologist broadly interested in how group-living animals make decisions. Currently, I study foraging decisions by wild bonobos (Pan paniscus) to better understand how individuals optimize their nutrient intake and energetic costs as food availability varies, and how these individual foraging decisions influence group fission-fusion dynamics. I am also investigating how social and environmental factors influence groups’ decisions about when and how to interact with one another. 

Decision-making • Foraging Behavior • Bonobos 

Kim Vermeulen

IMPRS Doctoral Student

I am currently a PhD student at the Laboratory of Viral Metagenomics, KU Leuven, and the Centre for Research and Conseration (CRC) of Zoo Antwerp and Zoo Planckendael. For my doctoral thesis, I focus on the gut virome of bonobos, the collective term for all viruses in the gastrointestinal tract. While these viruses likely play an important role in regulating health and wellbeing, they have only recently started to get attention in microbiome research. In humans, the composition of the gut virome is highly individual-specific and stays relatively stable over time, but the factors that drive these patterns of composition are still poorly understood. I aim to characterize the gut virome profiles of European zoo-housed bonobos and wild bonobos at LuiKotale, trying to link composition to numerous factors including geography, diet, sociality, age, sex and kinship. By comparing zoo-housed and wild bonobos, I can investigate how their different ecological setting affects the virome, with the potential of improving welfare and husbandry practices in captivity.

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