Susan C. Alberts

Duke University

Primary Section: 51, Anthropology
Secondary Section: 27, Evolutionary Biology
Membership Type:
Member (elected 2019)


Susan Alberts studies the behavior, ecology, physiology, and genetics of wild populations of large mammals, using longitudinal, individual-based data. She has spent 30 years studying wild primates in Kenya as part of the Amboseli Baboon Research Project, based in southern Kenya. She also studied the socioecology of African elephants for 10 years, publishing work on female and male social relationships and mating behavior, and ecological predictors of elephant group dynamics. Her recent work has focused on leveraging the rich potential of long-term, prospective, longitudinal data on the baboons of the Amboseli basin in Kenya in order to generate insights about the social and biological determinants of reproduction and survival. She received her PhD from University of Chicago, and pursued postdoctoral research as NIH Fellow (University of Chicago), a Junior Fellow (Harvard University) and a Bunting Fellow (Radcliffe). She has been on the faculty at Duke University since 1998, supervising undergraduate and graduate students as well as postdoctoral researchers. She spends several months each year at her field site in Kenya, and is based in Durham, NC where she lives with her family.

Research Interests

Susan Alberts is interested in understanding the function and evolution of social behavior. She and her collaborators work within a framework of integrative socioecology that is sensitive to the interdependencies among social behavior, demography, physiology, genetics, and population structure. This framework is inherently interdisciplinary, encompassing concepts and approaches that are grounded both in biodemography and in evolutionary biology. They have published several important findings about how social status, social relationships, competition, and affiliation influence health and survival outcomes in the Amboseli baboons. In related work, they have identified causes and consequences of differences in status within social hierarchies (a risk factor in human and other social mammals), including documenting nonlinear and density-dependent effects of social status on health and life outcomes. They have also pioneered the study of aging in wild primates, focusing not simply on demographic aging (changes in fertility and survival), but on how behavior and physiological functioning change with age. These results have garnered increasing attention from both biologists and sociologists, and have helped establish the Amboseli baboon population as an emerging model of aging in the wild.

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