Department of Anthropology

Student Profile

Dr Jo Setchell

(email at


Thanks for visiting my website. I received my PhD in Zoology from the University of Cambridge. Before joining the Anthropology department 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) before moving to Durham, where 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 Research Coordinator for the Department of Anthropology, and Degree Director for the MSc in Evolutionary Anthropology.

I am currently seeking high quality applicants for a PhD project submitted to the NERC Doctoral Training Partnership ( Details here:


Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Primatology

Cover image of IJP

The International Journal of Primatology is a multidisciplinary forum devoted to the dissemination of current research in fundamental primatology. Publishing peer-reviewed, high-quality original articles which feature the primate, the journal gathers laboratory and field studies from such diverse disciplines as anthropology, anatomy, ethology, paleontology, psychology, sociology, and zoology. Articles address various aspects of primate biology and the conservation of primates and their habitats. Articles reporting on endangered or threatened species are highlighted, to further increase sensitivity to the plight of primates. Short articles, reviews of research, and book reviews are also incorporated into the journal. Special issues focusing on particular topics of interest are published from time to time.

Vice-President (Research) of the International Primatological Society

The International Primatological Society was created to encourage all areas of non-human primatological scientific research, to facilitate cooperation among scientists of all nationalities engaged in primate research, and to promote the conservation of all primate species. The Society is organized exclusively for scientific, educational and charitable purposes.

Field & Laboratory Methods in Primatology

Coedited with Debbie Curtis

Bringing together contributions from a range of experts in the field, the second edition of this guide to research on wild primates covers the latest advances in the field, including new information on field experiments and measuring behaviour. It provides essential information and advice on the technical and practical aspects of both field and laboratory methods, covering topics such as ethnoprimatology; remote sensing; GPS and radio-tracking; trapping and handling; dietary ecology; non-invasive genetics and endocrinology. This integrated approach opens up new opportunities to study the behavioural ecology of some of the most endangered primates and to collect information on previously studied populations.

Chapters include methodological techniques; instructions on collecting, processing and preserving samples/data for later analysis; ethical considerations; comparative costs and further reading, making this an invaluable tool for postgraduate students and researchers in primatology, behavioural ecology and zoology.


I take a biological and evolutionary approach to anthropology. My research 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 my 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.

Since joining the Anthropology department I have developed collaborations with environmental anthropologists to address questions concerning human/wildlife interactions and biodiversity conservation. I am also interested in human interactions with other primate (ethnoprimatology), including the practice and ethics of primate research.

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 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.

Current Research Students

  • Sian Waters: "Population Status, Ecology and Conservation of Barbary macaques in the Rif Mountains, Morocco". PhD candidate
  • Pete Tomlin: "Ontogeny of social behaviour in chacma baboons". PhD candidate
  • Miles Woodruff: "Reintroduction of Mandrillus sphinx in the Republic of Congo". PhD candidate
  • Simone Lemmers: "Stress, life history, and dental development in primates". PhD candidate


  • 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"

Past Research Students

  • Emilie Fairet: "Human-wildlife conflict and its implications for the management of protected areas: A case study in Loango National Park, Gabon". PhD passed December 2012 - congratulations Emilie! See her thesis here: Emilie is now working for SFM Safari Gabon (, developing eco-tourism projects. She is also part of the working group on human-wildlife conflict managment and tool kit development with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the Ministry of Water and Forests in Gabon.
  • Ben Coleman: Predator-prey interactions and vigilance landscapes in samango monkeys in South Africa". PhD passed April 2013 - congratulations Ben! See his thesis here:
  • Caroline Howlett: "The 2D:4D ratio & social behaviour in female chacma baboons". MSc by Research passed May 2013 - congratulations Caroline! See her thesis here:
  • Kat Shutt: "An interdisciplinary risk assessment of gorilla ecotourism". PhD passed January 2014 - congratulations Kat! Kat is now working for Flora & Flauna International

Information for Prospective Students

I'm happy to supervise MSc, Masters by Research and PhD students in primatology, including:

  • primate socioecology
  • primate conservation
  • human-wildlife interactions
  • sexual selection (mate choice, intrasexual competition, sexual conflict)
  • reproductive and life history strategies
  • communication and signalling
  • behavioural endocrinology

Please contact me for further information. I'm very happy to work with candidates with whom I share research interests to develop a project.

I am currently seeking high quality applicants for a PhD project submitted to the NERC Doctoral Training Partnership ( Details here:

You can also find information about the MSc in Evolutionary Anthropology; information about post-graduate funding and information about 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

  • Growth and ontogeny
  • Interactions between hormones, immunity and reproduction
  • 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

Journal papers: academic

Show all publications

Related Links

Media Contacts

Available for media contact about:

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