Anthropology Professor Wins Prize for Research on Primate Nutrition
Mountain gorillas in Uganda eat a diet that most human doctors would enthusiastically recommend to their patients-with one exception: the gorillas get most of their sodium from decayed wood.
These are among the findings emerging from Dr. Jessica Rothman's research, which has just won the Feliks Gross Endowment Award presented by the CUNY Academy for the Humanities and Sciences. Rothman is an assistant professor of anthropology at Hunter, where she teaches human evolution and primate ecology and behavior. She also heads the Primate Nutrition Lab, spends three months a year doing field work in Uganda and, from Hunter, directs the research carried out by her Ugandan research assistants throughout the year.
Rothman's research focuses on the nutrition, ecology, and conservation of mountain gorillas and forest monkeys in Uganda, where she has worked for more than 13 years. The basic aim of the research, she said, is "to understand how primates meet their nutritional needs under a variety of environmental, physiological, and social constraints."
One of the chief research findings, she said, is that the mountain gorillas "eat lots of leaves and some fruit and basically have a diet high in fiber and low in fat, and they get most of their water from plants. One surprising finding is that they eat rotting wood, which provides the majority of the sodium in their diet."
"We gather our data," she continued, "by observing primates in the wild, collecting the foods that they eat, and analyzing our specimens at the Primate Nutrition Lab at Hunter." By learning what primates eat, she added, "we not only come to understand their nutrition, but we can also find ways of improving human diets and can understand more about the evolution of human diet."