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Wolfgang Dittus, Ph.D.

Primatologist
B.S. and M.S., McGill University, Canada; Ph.D., University of Maryland, College Park

Wolfgang Dittus is a primatologist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute’s Conservation Ecology Center. He is stationed in Sri Lanka where he has studied the behavior and ecology of wild monkeys in the dry forests of Polonnaruwa since 1968. He is also a research professor at the National Institute of Fundamental Studies in Sri Lanka. Dittus' research contributes to the knowledge of primate social evolution, public education and conservation.

His projects include:

  • The evolution of social behaviors that influence the growth, survival and reproductive success of monkeys
  • Vocal communication in macaque society
  • Anatomical adaptation and development in arboreal monkeys
  • Growth and epidemiology of wild monkeys
  • Forest ecology
  • Conservation, human-monkey conflict resolution and global public education through documentary films
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.
Recent Publications: 

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.