Nicky Staes

Postdoctoral Scientist
[email protected]

Areas of Expertise

Behavioral biology, evolutionary genetics, comparative primate genomics, primatology

Species studied: bonobos, chimpanzees

My background lies in behavioral biology and I am broadly interested in how genetic variation is causing individual behavioral differences. I completed my PhD research in Antwerp, Belgium, where I studied variation in two candidate genes that code for the receptors for oxytocin and vasopressin, two hormones known for their important role in the regulation of social behavior across species, ranging from rodents to humans. More specifically, I focused on the association between variation in these genes with stable individual personality profiles, both within and between the two closely related Pan species: bonobos and chimpanzees. 

Current Research

Currently I am working as a postdoctoral researcher at the Primate Genomics Lab and the Laboratory for Evolutionary Neuroscience at the George Washington University, where my goal is to study both genetic and neural factors underlying individual and phylogenetic variation of communication. By studying the cognitive processes, neurobiology and genetics underlying human communication in their closest living relatives, the great apes, we aim to address the complex puzzle of human language origins. 


Ph.D. Centre for Research and Conservation. Primate behavioral genetics. University of Antwerp, 2016. 
M.S. Biology, Evolution and behavioral sciences. University of Antwerp, 2010.


Bonobo personality: the effects of age and sex and links with behavior and dominance
N. Staes, M. Eens, A. Weiss, J.M.G. Stevens
In: Bonobos: unique in mind brain and behavior. Brian Hare, Shinya Yamamoto (eds.), Chapter 15. Oxford University Press - In Press
Heritability of personality traits and the relationship with vasopressin receptor gene 1a variation in bonobos.
N. Staes, M. Eens, A. Weiss, P. Helsen, M. Korody, J.M.G. Stevens
Scientific Reports – Vol. 6, No. 38193, December 2016 
Bonobo’s en chimpanzees: mensapen met persoonlijkheid
N. Staes, S. Koski, A. Weiss, M.  Eens and J.M.G. Stevens
Neurone - Vol. 21, No. 3, April 2016
Personality in bonobos 
A. Weiss*, N. Staes*, J.J.M. Pereboom, M. Inoue-Murayama, J.M.G. Stevens, M. Eens
Psychological Science, Vol. 26, No. 9, pp. 1430-1439, September 2015
* shared first authorship
Male chimpanzee sociability is associated with vasopressin but not oxytocin receptor gene variation
N. Staes*, S. Koski*, J.M.G. Stevens, P. Helsen, F. Erik  & M. Eens
Hormones and Behavior  Vol. 75, pp. 84–90, August 2015
* shared first authorship
Relationship quality in captive bonobo groups
J.M.G. Stevens, E. De Groot, N. Staes
Behaviour Vol. 152, No 3-4,  pp. 259-283, February 2015
Oxytocin and vasopressin receptor gene variation as a proximate base for inter-and intraspecific behavioral differences in bonobos and chimpanzees  - Genetic basis of Pan sociability
N. Staes, J.M.G. Stevens, P. Helsen, M. Hillyer, M. Korody, M. Eens
PLoS ONE Vol. 9, No 11, pp. e113364. November, 2014

Conference Abstracts

FOXP2 variation in great ape populations offers insight into the evolution of communication skills
N. Staes, C.C. Sherwood, K. Wright, M. De Manuel, E.E. Guevara, J.J. Ely, T. Marques-Bonet, M. Krützen, M. Massiah, W.D. Hopkins and B.J. Bradley
American Journal for Primatology – In press
Serotonin receptor 1A (5-HTR1A) variation is associated with anxiety and aggression in captive chimpanzees
N. Staes, C.C. Sherwood, W.D. Hopkins, H.Freeman and B.J. Bradley
American Journal for Primatology – In press
Is bigger really better? Case study–Behavioural follow-up of a group of bonobos (Pan paniscus) that moves into a bigger enclosure.
N. Staes, M. Borger., J.M.G. Stevens., M. Eens.
Folia Primatologica - Vol. 84, No. 3-5, pp. 324-325, August, 2013
Play in mature bonobos: differences between the sexes and differences between zoos.
C. Gils, J.M.G. Stevens, N. Staes, E. De Groot.
Folia Primatologica - Vol. 84, No. 3-5, pp. 277, August, 2013
‘Abnormal’ behaviours in zoo-living bonobos: A preliminary study.
S. Matthyssen, N. Staes, E. De Groot, J.M.G. Stevens
Folia Primatologica - Vol. 84, No. 3-5, pp. 302, August, 2013