RESEARCH

I am interested in the role of kinship and cognition in the evolution of behavioral defenses against infectious disease in nonhuman animals and in humans. This question is big and bold, so I use a collaborative, multidisciplinary approach. I incorporate field studies in behavior and bioacoustics, laboratory studies in genetics and virology, and theoretical modeling. Overall my research has attracted 30 grants and fellowships, including from national and international funding agencies including the European Research Council, National Science Foundation in the US, German Academic Exchange Service, and the Fonds de Recherche du Québec - Nature et Technologies in Canada. These are some of my current projects:

Sharon Kessler, lemur, Madagascar, vocalization, bioacoustics, health, primate, Durham University, agent-based model, simulation, model

Sociality and health in mouse lemurs

This project grew out of my PhD on matrilineal and patrilineal kin recognition in the gray mouse lemur. My collaborators and I are interested in 1) the role of kin networks in ectoparasite infestations and 2) the prevalence of viral infections in four mouse lemur species which inhabit four sites in varying degrees of sympatry and allopatry in Madagascar. I conducted the virology work as a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Wildlife Diseases at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Germany.

Collaborators: Prof. Alex Greenwood (Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, Germany), Prof. Lance Durden (Georgia Southern University, USA), Dr. Sarah Zohdy (Auburn University, USA), Profs. Elke Zimmermann and Ute Radespiel (University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover, Germany), Alida Hasiniaina (University of Mahajanga, Madagascar)

Sharon Kessler, Gabon, mandrill, CIRMF, disease signal, primate, anthropolog, primatology, biology

Health signaling and cognition in mandrills

This is the postdoctoral project that I am conducting as a Marie Curie Fellow at Durham University. My collaborators and I are testing how mandrills signal their health, whether other mandrills perceive these cues (disease recognition), and whether this disease recognition is linked with other cognitive abilities.

Collaborators: Prof. Jo Setchell (Durham University), Dr. Barthélémy Ngoubangoye (Centre International de Recherches Médicales, Gabon), Dr. Stefano Vaglio (Wolverhampton University, UK), Dr. Klára Petrželková and Prof. David Modrý (Institute of Vertebrate Biology, Czech Republic), Prof. Lance Durden (Georgia Southern University, USA), Dr. Gábor Czirják and Dr. Karin Mueller (Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, Germany)

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Novel strategy for disease control in human lineage - care-giving for the ill

Updated: Jul 12, 2018


This paper develops a novel theoretical framework for understanding the evolution of providing care for the sick within the broader context of nonhuman primate behavioral defenses against disease.


Kessler SE, Bonnell TR, Chapman CA. 2017. Selection to outsmart the germs: The evolution of disease recognition and kin selection. Journal of Human Evolution,

108: 92-109.

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