Kathrine Stewart

IMPRS Doctoral Student
Department for the Ecology of Animal Societies
Research Group Fruth

Main Focus

The world is big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark” – John Muir. This quote epitomizes my broad interest in how animals interact with one another and their environment. Accordingly, I have spent a considerable part of the past decade collecting and analyzing ecological and behavioral data from a variety of animal species, including caribou in Canada, gelada monkeys in Ethiopia, and chimpanzees in Gabon. Currently, I am interested in the mechanisms and consequences of decision-making in group-living animals, with a focus on how decision-making shapes social structure and organization both within and between social groups. For my PhD, I am studying decision-making by wild bonobos (Pan paniscus) in two different contexts: foraging and intergroup encounters. 

Foraging Decisions

On a daily basis, animals have to make decisions about what, when and where to eat in order to meet their nutritional needs. I am using nutritional geometry to evaluate the foraging decisions of individual adult bonobos in order to determine which strategies they adopt to obtain adequate minerals, with a focus on iodine. I am also keen on investigating whether individual foraging decisions influence grouping patterns and hence the fission-fusion dynamics of this species. 

Intergroup Encounters 

Intergroup encounters occur when two distinct social groups interact. The intensity of competition during these encounters can subsequently influence social relationships within and between groups, as well as group movement and fitness. I am interested in what promotes non-competitive (tolerant) encounters between groups because such tolerance is thought to be necessary for the formation of cooperative social systems like ours. Using a combination of phenological, behavioural and movement data, I am investigating how social and environmental conditions influence both the frequency of encounters between two groups of wild bonobos, and the degree of tolerance observed during these encounters. 

I love being outside and challenging myself to try new activities; when I’m not engaged in research, you’ll most likely find me exploring the nearest mountain or forested area (and probably making crazy decisions!). Having had the privilege of working in many beautiful places in North and Central America and Africa, I am a strong advocate of sustainable research practices that reduce human footprints in natural areas. 

Curriculum Vitae

MSc. Biology (2014 -2016): Department of Biology, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatchewan, Canada 

BSc. Honours, Biology (2006-2011): Department of Biology, Simon Fraser University, British Columbia, Canada

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