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Faculty Information

Elena P Cunningham, MA, PHD

Elena P. Cunningham, MA, PhD

Clinical Associate Professor
Basic Science and Craniofacial Biology
137 East 25th Street, Room 527, New York, NY 10010
Phone: 212-998-9618
Fax: 212-995-4087

Research Interests / Professional Overview

Elena Cunningham is interested in understanding how the interplay between ecological and social factors contributed to the evolution of primate cognition. She is beginning a three-year investigation of lemur foraging cognition at the Lemur Conservation Foundation in Myakka, Florida. Lemurs have been referred to as living fossils. The overall goal of the project is to delineate key aspects of the mental tool kit that lemurs use to find food. The specific aims of year one are to: 1) identify the optimal learning schedule for long-term retention of complex spatial information; 2) learn about the natural ranging patterns and responses to novel feeding sites of the semi-free ranging lemurs; and 3) test lemurs’ memory for 1 to 4 novel food locations after delays ranging from 1 to 100+ days. She is also completing a study of the ranging and foraging behavior of the black and white ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata) in Ranomafana National Park, Madagascar. The goal of this project is to determine whether the black and white ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata) 1) relies on memory to locate food sources and 2)remember the relative productivity of these sources 3) use a targeted search strategy to identify resources. Previously, Dr. Cunningham studied the use of memory in the foraging strategy of the white faced saki monkey (Pithecia pithecia).

Elena Cunningham collaborated with Jo Setchell and Steve Unwin on a study of the relative safety of various darting practices (darting is a common way of immobilizing primates in the wild). They are organizing a round table Can we make wild primate capture safer?at the combined International Primatological Society and American Society of Primatology) Conference to be held in Chicago inAugust 2016.

Past Student Research: Cunningham, E.P. and Schofield, L. (2010) Ecological and reproductive influences onVarecia variegataranging and feeding behavior in Ranomafana National Park, Madagascar.American Journal of Physical Anthropology(Supplement 50) 89.

Current Funding

National Geographic Society (2008)

Representative Publications

Complete listing available on the NYU Health Sciences Library site.

Search PubMed for articles.

Cunningham, E.P., Unwin, S., and Setchell, J.M. (2015) Darting Primates in the field: A survey of practices and their impact on the primates involved. International Journal of Primatology 36(5): 894-915.

Baker, E.W., Slott, P., Terracio, L. and Cunningham, E.P. (2013) An innovative method for teaching anatomy. Journal of Dental Education 77:1498-1807.

Cunningham, E.P., Harrison-Levine A. and Norman, R. (2013) Finding the Balance: Optimizing predatoravoidance and food encounters through individual positioning in Pithecia pithecia during travel. In Evolutionary Biology and Conservation of Titis, Sakis and Uacaris, Studies in Biological and Evolutionary Anthropology Editors: Adrian Barnett, Liza M. Veiga, Steve F. Ferrari. Marilyn Norconk. Cambridge University Press, pp 272-276.

Cunningham, E.P. and Janson, C.H. (2007) A socioecological perspective on primate cognition, past and present. Animal Cognition 10:273-281.

Cunningham, E.P. and Janson, C.H. (2007) Integrating information about location and value of resources by white-faced saki monkeys (Pithecia pithecia) Animal Cognition 10:293-304.

Cunningham, E.P. and Janson, C.H. (2006) Pithecia pithecia's behavioral response to  decreasing fruit abundance. American Journal of Primatology 68: 491-497.