Michael Wasserman

Michael Wasserman

Professor, Anthropology


  • Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley, 2011

Geographical areas of specialization
Uganda; Costa Rica; Panama

Research Interests
primate ecology and evolution; environmental endocrinology; conservation biology and sustainability; evolutionary medicine and EcoHealth; nutritional anthropology

About Michael Wasserman

I am assistant professor of Anthropology and Human Biology at Indiana University Bloomington, as well as P.I. of the Primate Environmental Endocrinology Lab (PEEL).

From 2013-2016, I was assistant professor of Environmental Science and Policy at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas. Prior to that, I was a Tomlinson postdoctoral research fellow and instructor in the Department of Anthropology at McGill University from 2011-2013. I received my PhD from the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2011. My undergraduate degrees are in Anthropology (BA) and Zoology (BS) from the University of Florida.

My research interests include primate ecology and evolution, environmental endocrinology, nutritional anthropology, evolutionary medicine, and conservation and sustainability. I am currently examining ecological and evolutionary relationships between wild primates and exogenous chemicals that interact with the endocrine system, including naturally-occurring phytosteroids and anthropogenic pesticides, with relevance to understanding the roles of endocrine disruptors in primate conservation, human evolution, and modern human morbidity, mortality, and reproduction.

Our Primate Environmental Endocrinology Lab (PEEL) explores how ecological interactions and global environmental change driven by human activity affect primates via the endocrine and immune systems, as well as the gut microbiome. We study primates, including humans, around the world, including our own research in Uganda, Costa Rica, and Panama, as well as collaborations across Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas.

Specifically, our lab examines the prevalence of hormone-active chemicals, both naturally-occurring phytosteroids and anthropogenic endocrine-disrupting compounds, in the foods and environments of primates and how these chemicals influence physiology and behavior leading to differences in morbidity, mortality, and reproduction. We also examine the effects of light pollution, ecotourism, research, forest fragmentation, and other ecological and anthropogenic factors on primates as measured by biomarkers of endocrine and immune functioning, the gut microbiome, and behavior.

Research questions with relevance to the dietary ecology of primates and evolution of modern human biology currently addressed in PEEL include: How prevalent are endocrine-active chemicals in the diets of various primate species? Are there differences in exposure based upon dietary niche (e.g., frugivores vs. folivores) or phylogeny (e.g., monkeys vs. apes)? What environmental factors influence the phytosteroid content of wild plants and how does this affect primate feeding behavior? Does the ingestion of phytosteroids alter rates of aggressive, anxiety-related, or mating behaviors? We are currently addressing these questions using a comparative framework in which we examine the relative exposure and susceptibility to endocrine-active chemicals across various primate species in Africa, Latin America, and Asia.

Most of our research takes place at Kibale National Park in western Uganda, a tropical forest where P.I. Wasserman has worked since 2003, and in Costa Rica, where Wasserman first studied tropical ecology during a study abroad program in 2000. Funding from a National Science Foundation International Research Experience for Students (IRES) grant supports student research in Costa Rica, Panama, and Uganda.

Graduate students and postdocs interested in joining PEEL will be expected to develop their own dissertation projects related to these general themes and work with undergraduate students and international collaborators in both the lab and field. Potential field sites are open to discussion. Five undergraduate student research positions for the IRES program are available each year starting in September.

If you are interested in joining the lab as part of the PhD program, IRES, or as a postdoc, please email me at mdwasser@indiana.edu.

Selected Publications

2021. Wasserman M.D., B. Wing, N. Bickford, K. Hobbs, P. Dijkstra, J. Carr. A universal theory of biological stress. Integrative & Comparative Biology: icab113. https://doi.org/10.1093/icb/icab113.

2021. Lim J.Y.*, M.D. Wasserman*, J. Veen, M.L. Després-Einspenner, W.D. Kissling. *shared first authorship. Ecological and evolutionary significance of primates’ most consumed plant families. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 288: 20210737. https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2021.0737.

2020. Wang S., T. Steiniche, J.M. Rothman, R.W. Wrangham, C.A. Chapman, R. Mutegeki, R. Quirós, M.D. Wasserman, and M. Venier. Feces are effective biological samples for measuring pesticides and flame retardants in primates. Environmental Science & Technology 54: 12013-12023.

2020. Tafoya K.A., E. Brondízio, C.E. Johnson, P. Beck, M. Wallace, R. Quirós, and M.D. Wasserman. Effectiveness of Costa Rica’s conservation portfolio to lower deforestation, protect primates, and increase community participation. Frontiers in Environmental Science 8: e580724.

2020. Chester E.M., E. Fender, M.D. Wasserman. Screening for Phytoestrogens using a Cell-based Estrogen Receptor β Reporter Assay. Journal of Visualized Experiments, e61005, https://doi.org/10.3791/61005.

2019. Wang S., T. Steiniche, K.A. Romanak, C.E. Johnson, R. Quirós, R. Mutegeki, M.D. Wasserman, and M. Venier. Occurrences of legacy pesticides, current use pesticides, and flame retardants in and around protected areas in Costa Rica and Uganda. Environmental Science & Technology 53, 11, 6171-6181.

2019. Benavidez K.M., C.A. Chapman, D.C. Leitman, T.A. Harris, and M.D. Wasserman. Seasonal and intergroup variations in estrogenic plant consumption by black-and-white colobus monkeys. African Journal of Ecology 57: 429-436.

2013. Wasserman, M.D., K. Milton, and C.A. Chapman. The roles of phytoestrogens in primate ecology and evolution. International Journal of Primatology 34: 861-878.

2013. Wasserman, M.D., C.A. Chapman, K. Milton, T.L. Goldberg, and T.E. Ziegler. Physiological and behavioral effects of capture darting on red colobus (Procolobus rufomitratus) with a comparison to chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) predation. International Journal of Primatology 34: 1020-1031.

2012. Wasserman, M.D., C.A. Chapman, K. Milton, J.F. Gogarten, D.J. Wittwer, and T.E. Ziegler. Estrogenic plant consumption predicts red colobus monkey (Procolobus rufomitratus) hormonal state and behavior. Hormones and Behavior 62: 553-562.

2012. Wasserman, M.D., A. Taylor-Gutt, J.M. Rothman, C.A. Chapman, K. Milton, and D.C. Leitman. Estrogenic plant foods of red colobus monkeys and mountain gorillas in Uganda. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 148: 88-97.

2008. Snaith,T.V., C.A. Chapman, J.M. Rothman, and M.D. Wasserman. Bigger groups have fewer parasites and similar cortisol levels: a multi-group analysis in red colobus monkeys. American Journal of Primatology 70: 1072-1080.

2006. Chapman, C.A., M.D. Wasserman, T.R. Gillespie, M.L. Speirs, M.J. Lawes, T.L. Saj, and T.E. Ziegler. Do nutrition, parasitism, and stress have synergistic effects on red colobus populations living in forest fragments? American Journal of Physical Anthropology 131: 525-534.

2003. Wasserman, M.D., and Chapman, C.A. Determinants of colobine monkey abundance: The importance of food energy, protein and fiber content. Journal of Animal Ecology 72: 650-659.