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CAS Prof Recognized for Chimp Study

Martin Muller, a CAS assistant professor of anthropology, found that male chimps prefer mating with older females.

Martin Muller’s 2006 study of chimp behavior sparked more than a few creative headlines last November. “Chimps Go Ape Over Older Females,” “Basic Chimp-stinct,” and “Chimps Dig Older Chimp Chicks” were just some of the offerings. But the research, which found that male chimps prefer mating with older females (they have better chances of surviving and raising offspring), also was among the year’s important science stories, according to a recent issue of Science News. The magazine listed the study in its “Science News of the Year 2006.”  

Muller, a College of Arts and Sciences assistant professor of anthropology, has studied the animal’s behavior for nearly a decade. His analysis of the “promiscuous mating system” of male chimps in Uganda’s Kibale National Park, where he compiled five years of aggression data and eight years of copulation data, confirmed his hypothesis about mating preferences.

Muller is interested in the relationship between chimpanzee and human behavior and physiology and what it all means in terms of human evolution. In his chimpanzee study, he emphasizes the fact that human males — in contrast to chimps, our closest living relative — prefer young, pretty, fertile females.

“Given that the human lineage evolved from a chimpanzee-like ancestor, my findings indicate that male preference for youth is a derived feature in humans, likely adapted to a tendency to form unusually long-term mating bonds,” Muller explains.

Muller is also director of BU’s Reproductive Ecology Laboratory and codirector of the Kibale Chimpanzee Project in Uganda. He earned a B.A. and a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Southern California, was an anthropology research investigator at the University of Michigan, and was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University.