He is co-director of the Kibale Chimpanzee Project, the long-term study of the Kanyawara chimpanzees in Kibale National Park, Uganda. His research culminates in the study of human evolution in which he draws conclusions based on the behavioural ecology of apes. As a graduate student, Wrangham studied under Robert Hinde and Jane Goodall.
Among the recent courses he teaches in the Human Evolutionary Biology (HEB) concentration at Harvard are HEB 1330 Primate Social Behaviour and HEB 1565 Theories of Sexual Coercion (co-taught with Professor Diane Rosenfeld from Harvard Law School). In March 2008, he was appointed House Master of Currier House at Harvard College. He received an honorary degree in Doctor of Science from Oglethorpe University in 2011.
Wrangham's latest work focuses on the role cooking has played in human evolution. He has argued that cooking food is obligatory for humans as a result of biological adaptations and that cooking, in particular the consumption of cooked tubers, might explain the increase in hominid brain sizes, smaller teeth and jaws, and decrease in sexual dimorphism that occurred roughly 1.8 million years ago. Some anthropologists disagree with Wrangham's ideas, arguing that no solid evidence has been found to support Wrangham's claims, though Wrangham and colleagues, among others, have demonstrated in the laboratory the effects of cooking on energetic availability: cooking denatures proteins, gelatinizes starches, and helps kill pathogens. The mainstream explanation is that human ancestors, prior to the advent of cooking, turned to eating meats, which then caused the evolutionary shift to smaller guts and larger brains.
Wrangham, R (1980). "An ecological model of female-bonded primate groups". Behaviour. 75 (3–4): 262–300. doi:10.1163/156853980x00447.
Wrangham, R.; Smuts, B. B (1980). "Sex differences in the behavioural ecology of chimpanzees in the Gombe National Park, Tanzania". Journal of Reproduction and Fertility. 28 Suppl: 13–31. PMID6934308.
Wrangham, R.; Conklin, N. L.; Chapman, C. A.; Hunt, K. D. (1991). "The significance of fibrous foods for Kibale Forest chimpanzees". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences. 334 (1270): 171–178. doi:10.1098/rstb.1991.0106. PMID1685575.
Wrangham, R.; Jones, J. H.; Laden, G.; Pilbeam, D.; Conklin-Brittain, N. L. (1999). "The raw and the stolen: Cooking and the ecology of human origins". Current Anthropology. 40 (5): 567–594. doi:10.1086/300083. PMID10539941. S2CID82271116.
Eds. Muller, M. & Wrangham, R. (2009). 'Sexual Coercion in Primates and Humans'. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.