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Beyond 'ooh-ooh, aah-aah'-- expert on monkey communication kicks off Darwin series, May 5

April 27, 2009

Robert Seyfarth, a noted expert on monkey communication, will present "Baboon Metaphysics: The Evolution of a Social Mind" from 5-6:30 p.m., Tuesday, May 5, in Room 130 Sharp Hall at the University of Delaware.

The lecture will kick off the University of Delaware's Year of Darwin Celebration, which is sponsored by the Center for International Studies and the Department of Anthropology, with support from colleges and departments across campus. The series, to continue through the fall, honors the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his landmark work On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.

Seyfarth is a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, where he has been on the faculty since 1985. He and Dorothy Cheney, his wife and collaborator, who is on Penn's biology faculty, studied communication, social behavior and cognition in chacma baboons in Botswana's Okavango Delta from 1992 to 2008. These baboons are among the largest of the world's five species and live in large groups of 100 where social rank is determined by a complex web of relationships.

Seyfarth and Cheney's work is described in Baboon Metaphysics, published in 2007 by the University of Chicago Press.

Publisher's Weekly said of the book: "Lovers' quarrels and murder, greed and social climbing: Baboon society has all the features that make a mainstream novel a page-turner. The question Cheney and Seyfarth ask, however, is more demanding: How much of baboon behavior is instinctive, and how much comes from actual thought? Are baboons self-aware? While describing important research about baboon cognition and social relations, this book charms as much as it informs."

Seyfarth received his B.A. in biological anthropology from Harvard and his Ph.D. from Cambridge, where he was a student of Robert Hinde. He was a postdoctoral fellow at Rockefeller University, where he and Cheney worked with Peter Marler and began an 11-year study of vervet monkeys in Amboseli National Park, Kenya. That work is described in How Monkeys See the World, published in 1990 by the University of Chicago Press.

Other species and research sites that are currently the focus of Seyfarth's research group include rhesus monkeys on Cayo Santiago, Puerto Rico; elephants in Sri Lanka; and geladas in Ethiopia.
-end-
No registration is required for the free event. A reception will follow in the lobby of Munroe Hall.

The ceremony will be Webcast live at this site (http://www.udel.edu/UMS/udlive/) and made available later as a podcast (http://www.ums.udel.edu/podcast/).

The lecture also will be simulcast into the University of Delaware's virtual world in Second Life, at this location (http://slurl.com/secondlife/University%20of%20Delaware/56/150/26). You must have an avatar in Second Life to visit using this link.

Additional support for UD's Year of Darwin Celebration has been provided by the Provost's Office, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Department of Biological Sciences, Department of English, Department of Geological Sciences, Department of Linguistics and Cognitive Science, Department of Philosophy, and the Science, Ethics and Public Policy Program.

University of Delaware

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