Project Details


Nutrition is critical to immunity and pathogen resistance in humans and other primates, but the mechanisms that link nutrition and well-being in primates are not fully understood. The goal of this project is to determine how nutritional strategy modulates immune function in response to natural variation in nutrient availability in one of our closest living relatives, orangutans. Studying wild orangutans offers a unique opportunity to integrate metabolic physiology and immunity with foraging in an ecological context, providing a natural experiment to examine the multi-dimensional relationships of nutrition, energetics, physiological well-being and fitness. This project will provide new insights into the plasticity of primate nutritional strategies, their underlying causes, and their consequences for primate populations. It will also provide interdisciplinary research and training opportunities and promote STEM research for undergraduate and graduate students from underrepresented groups at Rutgers University. In addition, several American students will participate in a study abroad program in Indonesia entitled 'Primates, Ecology, and Conservation in Indonesia,' where they will learn applied ecological methods and conservation practices together with Indonesian student counterparts. The project will foster international collaborations and relationships at all levels of research and capacity development, thereby supporting the long-term success of conservation and research at the field location. This project examines the interactive nature of dietary nutrition, energy balance, stress, and immunity, to understand mechanisms linking nutritional strategy to physiological status in primates. To investigate these dynamic relationships, the project personnel will combine their expertise to collect and analyze field behavioral and ecological data combined with nutritional, physiological, and immunological data using innovative laboratory and statistical approaches. This project will answer the following questions: How does the nutritional landscape of orangutans vary seasonally? How do orangutans cope with this variation -- by strictly regulating their intake of macronutrients (i.e., fats, protein, carbohydrates), or by changing their nutritional strategy to match the nutritional landscape? How do energy balance, stress, immune function, and parasite infections vary with nutritional strategy? Not only will this project provide powerful new insights into orangutan evolutionary ecology, but it will also set a new benchmark for nutritional ecology studies in primates and other animals, help to inform the laboratory paradigm on which it is modeled, and provide a non-human analogue to inform models concerning the nutritional ecology of humans in modern environments.
Effective start/end date8/1/177/31/20


  • National Science Foundation (National Science Foundation (NSF))


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