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Professor Jo Setchell (she/her)


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Professor in the Department of Anthropology  


I joined Durham Anthropology in 2007. I have a PhD in Zoology from the University of Cambridge, and moved into Anthropology gradually, via post-doctoral research at the Centre for Research in Evolutionary Anthropology at Roehampton University and in the Department of Biological Anthropology at the University of Cambridge, and a temporary lectureship in Anthropology at UCL.

At Durham I teach biological and evolutionary anthropology at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. I obtained my Post-Graduate Certificate in Teaching and Learning in 2008. I won a Durham Student's Union "Super Supervisor" award in 2014 and a University "Excellence in Doctoral Supervision" award in 2015.

I am strongly committed to advancing equity and inclusion in academia, and led our department's successful application for a Gender Equality Charter Mark in 2014.

I have served on the University Senate as an elected representative of the Academic Electoral Assembly, and as Director of the MSc in Evolutionary Anthropology, Chair of the Exam Board, Director of Research, Inclusion Diversity and Equity champion, and Director of Postgraduate Research in my department.

I enjoy public engagement, including appearances in BBC4's The Secrets of Skin, BBC2's Nature’s Weirdest Events, BBC4's "Colour: The Spectrum of Science", and Not a Pet: Primates.

Jo Setchell Durham EARG
Recent publications

Setchell JM. 2019. Studying Primates: How to Design, Conduct and Report Primatological Research. Cambridge University Press. I welcome feedback if you're using this.

I'm one of a team of 59 primatologists from 21 countries who worked with the Conservation Evidence Initiative in Cambridge to examine the evidence base underpinning efforts to conserve primates. Headline - most of the time, we don't know what works and what doesn't work.

I'm a co-author of the IUCN/ Species Survival Commission Primate Specialist Group Section for Human Primate Interactions Best Practice Guidelines for Responsible Images of Non-Human Primates. So far the Guidelines have been translated into 23 languages.

Recorded presentations

A recording from the Société Francophone de Primatologie Colloque 2021 Why conservation needs anthropology (in French).

A recording of my Presidential Plenary at the Primate Society of Great Britain Winter meeting 2020 on 'Decolonising Primatology' (in English).

A recording from an IUCN Primate Specialist Group Section for Human-Primate Interactions webinar on Decolonising Primate Conservation


For the last 25 years, my research has integrated methods including behaviour, morphology, demography, genetics, endocrinology, semiochemistry and dental histology to address questions relating to reproductive strategies, life history, sexual selection and signalling in primates. 

The majority of this work has focused on a semifree-ranging colony of mandrills, housed at the Centre International de Recherches Médicales, Franceville (CIRMF), Gabon. For more about our long-term studies of mandrills, please see this review. I have also conducted primate fieldwork in Cameroon, Republic of Congo and Sabah, Malaysia, including personal experience of conservation issues and primate reintroductions.

It is impossible to work on primates without becoming aware of the threats they face. My research is therefore increasingly focussed on human/wildlife interactions and biodiversity conservation. I am convinced that conservation must be underpinned by a deep understanding of the historical, political and social context. My collaborators and I have described our interdisciplinary approach to conservation here and here. My current work is in collaboration with Save Gabon's Primates to promote the conservation and welfare of primates in Gabon.

I have a long-standing interest in the practice and ethics of primate research. I co-edited a book on Field and Laboratory Methods in Primatology with an explicit focus on ethics, helped to develop the International Primatological Society's Code of Best Practices in Field Primatology, and lead the establishment of a new IPS Vice-President for Equity and Ethics. My recent book, Studying Primates, has a strong focus on equity, ethics and integrity. As President of the Primate Society of Great Britain, I focussed on the need to decolonise our discipline.

You can find details of my publications below and on Researchgate.

Information for Prospective Students and Postdocs
Excellence award

I'm happy to supervise interns, MSc, Masters by Research, and PhD students in primatology. I am happy to work with applicants who share my research interests to develop a proposal.

If you're interested in doing a PhD, you will need funding to cover fees, living costs and research costs. PhDs in the UK do not include a taught component and are usually 3-4 years if you study full-time. If there are no funded projects advertised on this page, then I don't have any available (sorry).

Options for funding through Durham University include Doctoral Training partnerships, Durham Doctoral Scholarships (no information available for 2023 as yet) and other scholarships. Deadlines are usually in January and early preparation with multiple rounds of feedback is essential for a chance of success. This database might also be useful.

There's information about a variety of postdoctoral fellowship opportunities here.

I prioritise applications from range-country primatologists, and which relate to and build on my own research.

Completed Post-Docs
  • Dr Sharon Kessler: Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellowship on disease recognition in primates January 2017-December 2018. Sharon is now a lecturer in Pscyhology at Stirling University.
  • Dr Rodrigo Moro-Rios: Ciência sem Fronteiras "Phylogenetic reconstruction of ancestral states and diversification of Callitrichidae (Primates) cooperative breeding societies". Rodrigo is now an Honorary Researcher in Anthropology at Durham.
  • Dr Esther Clarke: COFUND Junior Research Fellowship "Primate vocalisations as sexual signals". Esther is now an Honorary Researcher in Anthropology at Durham.
  • Dr Stefano Vaglio: Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowships for Career Development "Primate Olfaction". Stefano is now Senior Lecturer in Animal Behaviour at the University of Wolverhampton.
Current Research Students
  • Ingrid Grueso-Dominguez: 'Applying geometric morphometrics to the study of discrete dental traits' PhD candidate.
  • Christopher Miller. 'Welfare assessment of rhesus macaques: from field observation to computational models of brain network'. In collaboration with Dr Colline Poirier (Newcastle University). BBSRC-funded PhD candidate. 
  • Milena Carstens. MSc by Research candidate.
  • Angela Skrabaka. MSc by Research candidate.
  • Dan Lewis. 'Mandrills and microbes: The role of the skin microbiome in primate communication'. IAPETUS2 DTP NERC-funded PhD candidate in collaboration with Dr Leena Kerr (Heriot-Watt University), Dr Sharon Kessler (University of Stirling), and Dr Barthelemy Ngoubangoye (CIRMF, Gabon)
Completed Research Students
Current Collaborations
  • Département Primatologie, Centre Interdisciplinaire de Recherches Médicales, Franceville, Gabon (long-term, interdisciplinary studies of semi-free-ranging mandrills; Save Gabon's primates)

  • Dr Wendy Dirks, Durham Anthropology (stress, life history and primate teeth)

  • Dr Robin Bernstein, Department of Anthropology, University of Colorado Boulder, USA (the endocrinology of primate growth and development)

  • Dr Elena Cunningham, NYU College of Dentistry (darting primates)

Research interests

  • Socioendocrinology
  • Primate socioecology
  • Human-wildlife interactions
  • Primate conservation
  • Biosocial conservation
  • Reproductive strategies
  • Primate behavioural ecology
  • Sexual selection
  • Life history strategies and phenotypic plasticity
  • Ethnoprimatology

Research groups

Awarded Grants

  • 2014: Primate Vocalisations as Sexual Signals(£9055.00 from The British Academy)
  • 2013: Durham International Fellowships for Research and Enterprise - DIFeREns(£83849.00 from European Commission)
  • 2013: Microsmatic primates revisited: Determining the importance of olfaction in primate communication - PrimOlf(£165202.14 from European Commission)
  • 2013: Stress, life history, and dental development in primates(£62844.50 from The Leverhulme Trust)
  • 2010: Evolutionary significance and proximate mechanisms-International Joint Project(£10000.00 from The Royal Society)

Media Contacts

Available for media contact about:

  • Evolution: primate behaviour
  • Evolution: sexual selection
  • People: Evolution and Biology: animal behaviour


Authored book

  • Setchell JM (2019). Studying Primates: How to Design, Conduct and Report Primatological Research. Cambridge University Press.

Book review

Chapter in book

Edited book

  • Setchell, J.M. & Curtis, D.J. (2011). Field and Laboratory Methods in Primatology: A Practical Guide. Cambridge University Press.
  • Setchell, J.M. & Curtis, D.J. (2003). Field and Laboratory Methods for Primatologists: A Practical Guide. Cambridge University Press.

Journal Article

Newspaper/Magazine Article

  • Setchell, Joanna M (2020). Primates are facing an impending extinction crisis - but we know very little about what will actually protect them. The Conversation
  • Setchell, Joanna M (2017). 60% of primate species now threatened with extinction, says major new study. The Conversation
  • Setchell, Joanna M (2015). Got a great relationship? You may want to thank your prehistoric grandmother. The Conversation
  • Setchell, Joanna M (2015). Why men are not biologically useless after all …. The Conversation

Supervision students