The Secret Life of Primates: Charlotte Defolie joins Real Scientists!

We are pumped to have behavioural ecologist Charlotte Defolie (@Cha_Defolie) this week, undertaking her PhD at the German Primate Center & University of Göttingen in Germany. Charlotte is currently studying the interactions between social organisation and social behaviour with health indicators in wild lemurs. As always, we asked her about her science journey so far:


What brought you to science and how did you end up working with primates??

A love of knowledge, always asking why. I started as a kid always outside observing birds and insects and collecting rocks and leaves. I decided at 5 that i wanted to be like Diane Fossey and Jane Goodall and spend my days in the forest with primates. I worked hard for it, got a lot of luck and took the right opportunities to finally land amazing jobs in the field and then my dream PhD. I wanted to know more about the evolution of sociality, fascinated by animal behaviour for as long as I remember. It is a lot of fun to observe animals interact and collect poop and urine samples for a living!

What are you working on right now?

My main research interests are understanding the evolution of social life, and the interaction of on the one hand sociality, early life adversity and ageing on health and fitness in wildlife. For this, I studied mostly primates (capuchins, bonobos, macaques, lemurs) but also ants and mice. My usual day is following animals from dusk to dawn, recording all their behaviour and collecting faecal or urine samples for genetics or parasite or physiology measures. Back at my institute I can spend days in the lab running enzyme immuno assays, PCR or looking at parasite with a microscope or work for long hours in front of my computer. At the moment I am finishing my PhD project about the interaction of social organisation and social behaviour with health indicators in wild lemur.

What is interesting about your work?

I am working on how improving our social environment can improve our health and longevity and on how some behaviour facilitate sickness, this is relevant for all. Also there will be very cute animal pictures and stories about poop 🙂

How do you spend your time outside the lab?

I had 2 children during my PhD so I spend a lot of time outside fetching balls, running and cycling or inside building towers and airplanes or driving little cars and play pretend I am at the doctor or at the restaurant.

I am fond of traveling (4 continents, 19 countries), trekking, snorkelling (I was born and raised by the Mediterranean sea) and yoga. I am also a very crafty person and like to spend time woodworking, painting and sewing stuff. All these I now enjoy to share with my kids and awesome partner. My partner is a science educator officer, working mostly with museums, so we do visit a lot of museums for both his professional interest and our love of knowledge.

Please welcome Charlotte to Real Scientists!

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