Department of Anthropology

Student Profile

Dr Jo Setchell

(email at


Thanks for visiting my website. I received a PhD in Zoology from the University of Cambridge. Before joining Durham Anthropology in 2007 I did post-doctoral research at the Centre for Research in Evolutionary Anthropology at Roehampton University and in the Department of Biological Anthropology at the University of Cambridge.

I began my university teaching career with a temporary lectureship at UCL (Anthropology). At Durham I teach biological and evolutionary anthropology at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. I obtained my Post-Graduate Certificate in Teaching and Learning in 2008.

I am currently Director of Research for the Anthropology Department.

For more information about Primatology in Durham, please see Durham Primatology Group

Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Primatology

Cover image of IJP

Vice-President (Research) of the International Primatological Society

Field & Laboratory Methods in Primatology

Coedited with Debbie Curtis


I pursue two major areas of research.

The first integrates behaviour, morphology and demographic studies with genetics, endocrinology and semiochemistry to address questions relating to reproductive strategies, life history, sexual selection and signalling in primates. The majority of this work has focused on a semifree-ranging colony of mandrills at the Centre International de Recherches Médicales, Franceville (CIRMF), Gabon. I have also conducted primate fieldwork in Cameroon, Congo and Sabah, Malaysia.

I began my research career by investigating the dramatic red colouration of male mandrills, showing that this was related to testosterone, increased with male rank, and attracted females. High-ranking, highly coloured males sire the great majority of offspring in this species, explaining their extreme ornamentation. I subsequently studied female sexual signals in the same species, contributing to the hotly debated question of whether female signals reliably indicate ‘quality’. I continued this focus on sexual signals by conducting the first comprehensive test of the ‘immunocompetence hypothesis’ for the evolution of ornamentation in non-human primates.

Next, I explored the relationship between genes and mate choice. Mate choice for major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes is thought to give offspring a fitness advantage through disease resistance. I conducted one of the first studies of MHC-associated mate choice in a naturally reproducing mammal population, demonstrating a link between mating outcome and MHC dissimilarity in mandrills.

This led me to investigate how primates identify their ideal mate. Monkeys and apes have traditionally been considered as microsmatic, and the study of olfactory cues has thus been almost entirely neglected. However, my chemical investigations of odour signals in mandrills (the first such investigations in Old World primates) showed that odour encodes not only sex, age and dominance rank, but also MHC genotype and, crucially, MHC dissimilarity. Thus, odour provides a mechanism by which primates may detect their ‘optimal’ mate.

My current and planned future work in this area pursues the theme of signalling and mate choice, investigating potential post-copulatory selection based on genotype, whether and how primates respond to signals, and adds dental histology to my portfolio of methodological approaches with a Leverhulme-funded study of how primate teeth record life history events.

For more about my long-term studies of mandrills, please see /anthropology/mandrills/

The second area of my research involves collaboration with environmental anthropologists to address questions concerning human/wildlife interactions and biodiversity conservation. I am also very interested in the practice and ethics of primate research, and helped to develop the International Primatological Society's Code of Best Practices in Field Primatology.

You can find details of my publications below, and on Researchgate


  • Dr Esther Clarke: COFUND Junior Research Fellowship "Primate vocalisations as sexual signals"
  • Dr Stefano Vaglio: Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowships for Career Development "Primate Olfaction"
  • Dr Rodrigo Moro-Rios: Ciência sem Fronteiras (CsF) "Phylogenetic reconstruction of ancestral states and diversification of Callitrichidae (Primates) cooperative breeding societies"

Current Research Students

  • Pete Tomlin: "Ontogeny of social behaviour in chacma baboons". PhD candidate funded by a Leverhulme Study Abroad grant
  • Miles Woodruff: "Reintroduction of Mandrillus sphinx in the Republic of Congo". PhD candidate in collaboration with the Jane Goodall Institute
  • Ingrid Grueso-Dominguez: "Applying geometric morphometrics to the study of discrete dental traits" PhD candidate
  • Simone Lemmers: "Stress, life history, and dental development in primates". PhD candidate, funded by a Leverhulme Project grant
  • Pedro Mendez-Carvajal: "Conserving primates in highly deforested habitats: a case study in Panama". PhD candidate funded by a Panamanian Government Scholarship

Completed Research Students

Information for Prospective Students

I'm happy to supervise interns, MSc, Masters by Research and PhD students in primatology. I can provide training and projects for interns, MSc and Masters by Research students. I do not usually offer 'off-the-shelf' PhD projects to students, but prefer to work with applicants who share my research interests to develop a proposal.

Click for information about the MSc in Evolutionary Anthropology; post-graduate funding and fees and living costs.

Current Collaborations

  • Centre Internationale de Recherches Médicales, Franceville, Gabon (long-term, interdisciplinary studies of semi-free-ranging mandrills)
  • Dr Leslie A Knapp, Department of Anthropology, University of Utah (MHC genetics of semi-free-ranging mandrills)
  • Dr Robin Bernstein, Department of Anthropology, University of Colorado Boulder, USA (the endocrinology of primate growth and development)
  • Dr Elena Cunningham, NYU College of Dentistry (darting primates)
  • Dr Wendy Dirks, Newcastle Dental School (stress, life history and primate teeth)

Research Groups

Research Interests

  • Human-wildlife interactions
  • Primate Conservation
  • Primate socioecology
  • Reproductive strategies
  • Secondary sexual traits and signalling in males and females
  • Socioendocrinology
  • Primate behavioural ecology
  • Sexual selection
  • Life history strategies and phenotypic plasticity
  • Ethnoprimatology

Selected Publications

Books: sections

  • Setchell, J.M. (2015). Color in competition contexts in non-human animals. In Handbook of Color Psychology. Elliot, A.J. & Fairchild, M.D. Cambridge University Press. in press.

Journal papers: academic

Show all publications

Media Contacts

Available for media contact about:

  • Evolution: primate behaviour
  • People: Evolution and Biology: animal behaviour
  • Evolution: sexual selection