Rebecca Stumpf

Rebecca Stumpf

Current Fellow

Fellow: Awarded 2016

Field of Study: Anthropology and Cultural Studies

Competition: US & Canada


Rebecca Stumpf is an associate professor of Anthropology at the University of Illinois, with faculty appointments in the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, the Center for African Studies, the Program in Ecology, Evolution and Conservation, and the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology. She runs a wild chimpanzee field research project in Kanyantale, Kibale National Park, Uganda, co-directs the Laboratory for Evolutionary Endocrinology (LEE), and heads the evolutionary metagenomics project at the University of Illinois. She received her Bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College and her Ph.D. from Stony Brook University.

As a biological anthropologist, Rebecca strives to answer the core question, “What makes us human?” through comparative studies of primate (including human) morphology, behavior, genetics, hormones, microbiomes, and disease. She conducts interdisciplinary research, incorporating behavioral, hormonal, and microbial analyses with field observations of wild primates to test hypotheses that explain how primate reproductive behavior and reproductive biology adapt to social and environmental conditions. She collaborates with scholars in the fields of biology, microbiology, computer science, engineering, and medicine to bring new methodologies and perspectives to the study of primate behavior, human evolution and health.

During her graduate studies at Stony Brook University, her analyses of gorilla crania revealed that the Nigerian/Cameroon border population was morphologically distinct, leading to the eventual recognition of the Cross River gorilla as a separate subspecies (G.g. diehli), and the reclassification of Gorilla into two species.

Her PhD research integrated behavioral and hormone data to examine reproductive strategies and sexual selection in wild chimpanzees of the Ivory Coast, yielding novel conclusions about chimpanzee females’ mixed reproductive strategies depending on their conception likelihood. During postdoctoral research at Harvard University, she conducted comparative hormonal and behavioral analyses of wild orangutan and chimpanzee reproductive strategies. This comparative perspective, along with earlier work on lemur morphology and behavior contributed to the development of a model for sexual conflict to explain variation in behaviors and morphologies across the Primate Order. Since 2007, she has been conducting longitudinal behavioral and endocrinological studies of wild chimpanzees’ social and sexual development and sexual conflict in Uganda.

Over the last 10 years, the unifying theme of her research is the integration of primate behavioral ecology and physiology with microbial ecology. This collaborative primate evolutionary metagenomics research compares microbial samples from diverse wild and captive primates to address questions about microbe- host interactions, the factors that explain microbial variation, and the implications of these interactions on primate (and human) evolution, health, development, and conservation. Some of their key findings include that human vaginal microbiomes differ considerably from all other primates in their homogeneity and dominance of lactobacillus (>50%), compared to ~3% in their nearest evolutionary relatives, the chimpanzees. Understanding the root of this variation has important implications for the prevention of preterm birth, a condition closely associated with microbiome disruption. During the Guggenheim tenure, she will apply metagenomic analyses to wild chimpanzee dispersal patterns and conservation.

Rebecca has authored or coauthored over 40 publications, including a co-edited journal volume and a book, Primates in Perspective (2011). Her research has been funded by Primate Conservation, Inc., Conservation International, the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, the L.S.B. Leakey Foundation, the Wenner Gren Foundation, the University of Illinois Campus Research Board, US Fish and Wildlife, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Science Foundation.

She has received multiple awards for her research including the Stony Brook President’s Award for Outstanding Dissertation, an Arnold O. Beckman Research Award for projects of special distinction or promise, a University of Illinois Center for Advanced Study Fellowship, a Beckman Fellowship given in recognition of an outstanding young faculty member’s scholarly contributions, and an Irwin C. Gunsalus Scholar award for exemplary scholarship and teaching, and several teaching awards from the University of Illinois and Harvard University.

She is a board member of the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation and a member of the African Primate Conservation group.

Follow this link to the Stumpf lab.