Web edition: January 24, 2013
Beginning in the late 1970s, Sam Wasser spent years following wild yellow baboons across Tanzania, a country in Africa. Wasser wanted to measure chemicals called hormones in the female monkeys to better understand their reproduction. But the biologist didn’t want to stress the baboons by capturing the animals and sampling their blood.
Then an idea struck Wasser: What if he measured the hormones in baboon droppings? “One thing I knew about following baboons is they’re pooping a lot,” recalls Wasser, who now directs the Center for Conservation Biology at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Feces fascinate scientists tackling other topics too. Some scientists search for ancient poop left by animals that have gone extinct. Quite a few even study critters that dine on dung. Sure, feces may not be pleasant. Still, the researchers profiled here believe the knowledge they derive outweighs any drawbacks.