B.S. and M.S., McGill University, Canada; Ph.D., University of Maryland, College Park
Dittus broke new ground many decades ago by demonstrating that monkeys, through their behavioral tactics, determined rates of survival and reproduction among their fellow group members and that environmental quality modulated this relationship. Dittus, along with collaborators from different disciplines, helped show how genetics, disease, physiology and growth were woven into the fabric of social evolution. His research and the subjects of his research — the monkeys living among the ancient ruins of temples and palaces at Polonnaruwa — have been the basis of more than 30 documentary films by the BBC, Discovery, DisneyNature, Smithsonian Channel and others.
Dittus graduated with a bachelor's degree and a Master of Science in zoology from McGill University in Canada in 1967. He earned his doctorate in zoology from the University of Maryland, College Park in 1974. He was a team member in the Smithsonian Biological Program in Ceylon from 1968-1972 and was mentored by John Eisenberg, a resident scientist at the Smithsonian's National Zoo, at that time. Dittus is currently a research associate with the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute. He has previously been awarded Smithsonian postdoctoral fellowships and grants, and was a staff zoologist at the Zoo. Dittus established and directs the Smithsonian Primate Research Station at Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka (1977-present).
Dittus was born in Berlin in 1943. He grew up as a boy close to nature in the Black Forest hills of Germany, followed by rural west-coast Canada. A curiosity about human tribes and biological origins eventually led him to devote most of his career to an in-depth study of a society of contemporary primates that holds the key to understanding many of human social predispositions. He likes to share his knowledge through documentary films.
W Dittus, S Gunathilake, and M Felder. 2019. Assessing public perceptions and solutions to human-monkey conflict from 50 years in Sri Lanka. Folia primatologica 90(2):89-108.
W. Dittus, W. (2013). Arboreal adaptations to body fat in wild toque macaques (Macaca sinica) and the evolution of adiposity in primates. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 152:333-344.
W. Dittus, Eds, B Thiery, M. Singh, and M Kaumanns. 2004. Demography: a window to social evolution. In: Macaques Societies: a model for the study of social evolution. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge Pp. 87-116.