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Anthropological Center for Training and Research on Global Environmental Change

A Research Center of the Office of the Vice Provost for Research at Indiana University Bloomington
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Michael Muehlenbein

Profile photo of Michael Muehlenbein
Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology
Student Building 130
701 E. Kirkwood Avenue
Bloomington, IN 47405-7100
Phone: (812) 855-2040
mpm1[at]indiana [dot] edu
Research Interests: Physiological adaptations (primarily metabolic and reproductive endocrine changes) to infectious diseases; immune-endocrine interactions; ecological immunology; emerging infectious diseases; ecotourism; male reproductive ecology; human life history evolution; behavioral endocrinology

My research interests are focused primarily on various aspects of the biology and ecology of infectious diseases, including the human and non-human primate physiological adaptations to these diseases as well as the impact of environmental change on zoonotic disease transmission potential, specifically between human and non-human primate populations. Part of this involves characterizing hormone-mediated trade-offs between the immune and reproductive systems, using life history theory to explain the evolutionary bases for these trade-offs, and developing theoretical and empirical models so as to cultivate an explanatory framework for differential susceptibility to infectious diseases, specifically parasites and viruses.

Infectious diseases have been important selection pressures instrumental in the evolution of human and non-human primates, and mammalian immunity has evolved into a complex system of components whose proper performance is influenced by many physiological systems, including reproductive hormones of the endocrine system. Interestingly, an evolutionary perspective can contribute valuably to medical research and practices, including basic aspects of immunology and endocrinology. As predicted by evolutionary and life history theories, testosterone variation within an individual should function as an adaptive mechanism to augment reproductive effort or bolster immunity according to available energy and disease risk in the environment. Because testosterone modulates immune, reproductive, and somatic metabolic functions, assessing interactions between testosterone, measures of metabolism, and immune factors during infection are insightful for understanding male physiological ecology and the optimization of hormone levels under various environmental conditions.

The second major aspect of my research involves assessment of primate disease ecology with the ultimate purpose to describing zoonotic transmission potential between human and non-human primate populations. Human encroachment into previously un-impacted forest is believed to be partly responsible for various emerging infectious diseases, specifically hemorrhagic fevers. Encroachment into these areas can facilitate disease transmission from animal to human not only through increased initial contact between the two, but also from elevated population densities of animals confined to smaller tracks of forest. At my fieldsite in Sabah, Malaysia ( Island of Borneo), human contact with wild orang-utans and other species is increasing through population growth of the indigenous peoples, increases in tourism, and most dramatically, by encroachment from oil-palm plantations and their workers. My goal is to assess potential negative effects of increased human-animal contact through the long-term collection of samples from local villagers, oil-palm plantation employees, orangutans, and even elephants. I have also conducted parasitological analyses on wild chimpanzee, sifaka, baboon, and vervet populations in the past.

Geographical Areas of Specialization: Borneo


Selected Publications

Muehlenbein MP (ed.). Human Evolutionary Biology. Cambridge University Press. Forthcoming.

Muehlenbein MP. 2006. Intestinal parasite infections and fecal steroid levels in wild chimpanzees. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 130:546-550.

Muehlenbein MP, Cogswell F, James M, Koterski J, Ludwig G. 2006. Testosterone correlates with Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis virus infection in macaques. Virology Journal 3:19-27.

Muehlenbein MP, Bribiescas RG. 2005. Testosterone-mediated immune functions and male life histories. American Journal of Human Biology 17:527-558.

Muehlenbein MP, Algier J, Cogswell F, James M, Krogstad D. 2005. The reproductive endocrine response to Plasmodium vivax infection in Hondurans. American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene 73:178-187.

Muehlenbein MP, Campbell BC, Watts DP, Richards RJ, Svec F, Phillippi KM, Murchison MA, Myers L. 2005. Leptin, adiposity, and testosterone levels in captive male macaques. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 127:335-341.

Muehlenbein MP. 2005. Parasitological analyses of the male chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) at Ngogo, Kibale National Park, Uganda. American Journal of Primatology 65:167-179.

Etheredge GD, Michael G, Muehlenbein MP, Frenkel JK. 2004. The roles of cats and dogs in Toxoplasma infection in Kuna and Embera children of eastern Panama. Pan American Journal of Public Health 16:176-186.

Muehlenbein MP, Watts DP, Whitten P. 2004. Dominance rank and fecal testosterone levels in adult male chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) at Ngogo, Kibale National Park, Uganda. American Journal of Primatology 64:71-82.

Muehlenbein MP, Campbell BC, Richards RJ, Svec F, Phillippi KM, Murchison MA, Myers L. 2003. Leptin, body composition, adrenal and gonadal hormones among captive male baboons. Journal of Medical Primatology 32(6):320-324.

Muehlenbein MP, Richards RJ, Campbell BC, Phillippi KM, Murchison MA, Myers L, Svec F. 2003. Dehydroepiandrosterone-sulfate as a biomarker of senescence in male non-human primates. Experimental Gerontology 38:1077-1085.

Muehlenbein MP, Schwartz M, Richard A. 2003. Parasitological analyses of the sifaka (Propithecus verreauxi verreauxi) at Beza Mahafaly, Madagascar. Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine 34(3):274-277.

Muehlenbein MP, Campbell BC, Murchison MA, Phillippi KM. 2002. Morphological and hormonal parameters in two species of macaques: impact of seasonal breeding. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 117:218-227.

Muehlenbein MP, Campbell BC, Phillippi KM, Murchison MA, Richards RJ, Svec F, Myers L. 2001. Reproductive maturation in a sample of captive male baboons. Journal of Medical Primatology 30:273-282.


To access Dr. Muehlenbein's Anthropology department faculty profile, click here.