Professor Phillips-Conroy's studies of free-ranging primates are focused on how behavioral, demographic, and ecological variables function to influence population structure. Her research has largely been centered on a long-term study of the hybrid zone between olive and hamadryas baboons in the Awash National Park in Ethiopia (Papio hamadryas, s.l.).
Philips-Conroy's research focused on ascertaining the degree of hybridization in these animals, with a further goal of understanding the mechanisms of formation of the hybrid zone and the factors responsible for it changes over time. Her methods involve capture and biological sampling of over 1000 animals in 13 social groups, together with studies (typically conducted by my graduate students) of baboon behavior and ecology. The scope of this project has extended to fields as diverse as genetics, morphology, and neurochemistry. She describes her research as broad spectrum, integrative, and collaborative.
Her research also addresses the more general question of variation, distribution, adaptation and speciation within the genus Papio as a whole. Past fieldwork included studies of yellow baboons at Mikumi National Park in Tanzania and olive baboons in Kenya. Since 2004 she has been engaged in a collaborative project on Zambian baboons. Her initial work there centered on discovering the distribution and variation of Zambia’s three kinds of baboons (all of which are different from those we studied in Ethiopia). The Zambian baboons have never been studied, and one form, the Kinda baboon, seems to have unique developmental and behavioral characteristics. She has surveyed much of the Luangwa and Kafue drainages and have recently been funded to conduct a three year study (2010-2013) on the Kinda baboon and its hybrid zone with grayfoot chacmas in the Kafue National Park. Capture studies will begin there in 2011 and behavioral studies are already underway on the Kinda baboons in Kasanka National Park.