I spent a lot of time thinking about what would interest me in our upcoming research paper. I have recently decided to travel to Nicaragua this summer to participate in a field school on the island of Ometepe to study Primate Behavior and Ecology coupled with rainforest conservation. My initial reaction, therefore, was to create a research project that would lend itself to what I would be researching this summer: various behavioral aspects of Howler monkeys or White-Faced Capuchins. After thinking and researching a little bit more, I realized that I did not want to pigeon-hole myself into any preconceived notions of research before I got to the island. So I picked a second area of personal interest to me.
During the summer after my freshman year I participated in genetic research on primate evolution; comparing the molecular clock with the known fossil record. I spent a lot of time extracting mitochondrial DNA from the Gen Bank which would later be used to make an evolutionary tree mapping the relationships between various primates based on their genetic variation. Ever since, I have been fascinated by our evolutionary history has an impact on population genetics. The fact that we can look into DNA to get information on population dispersal is so interesting to me, and there is so much that is yet to be understood about how various populations have come to be over time. I think Madagascar and lemurs provide a particularly excellent case study, as the specific populations have been isolated for a lengthy amount of time and there is a wide variety of diversity in a relatively small location.
A research project on population genetics and dispersal, however, would not yield specific results in primate behavior, which – as the subject of the class – is something that I would really like to touch on. For this reason, rather than taking a closer look at lemur mitochondrial DNA and delving into thousands of years of history (millions of years, actually), I have decided that I would like to do a general survey of populations of lemurs in Madagascar with a more modern day focus.
For this paper, I would love the opportunity to do more research on lemur populations in Madagascar. I would like to take a closer look into how various populations of lemurs have come to exist in their respective niches on the island. I am also interested in looking into how human activity has altered lemur habitats in such a way that their behavior has been altered. My main focus, as of right now, is to do a literature review to determine how lemur behavior – social interactions and social structure, feeding and dietary habits, resting and active habits, etc… Have changed over the past few decades due to problems in conservation and sustainability.
As of right now, I think that I have a great deal of narrowing down to do. A question that I might need to answer – based on the specific research I find – are what lemurs to focus on. I do not know with extensive detail what literature is available, but there are an enormous number of lemurs on Madagascar, and I might need to narrow down on just a few. I also may need to decide which exact behavioral habits to pick. As I do more research I hope to uncover what exact changes have been occurring in lemurs over the years due to agricultural shifts and other anthropogenic problems humans have inflicted upon lemur populations.
Should it be discovered to me that there is simply not enough information to fulfill the requirements of this specific paper, I will instead make a research project proposal. This research project would involve an in depth study of the practices that alter lemur habitats, and comparing what is normally expected of them versus what we are currently seeing. I also have a large amount of information available to make this research project more feasible because of the Duke Lemur Center just down the road in my hometown!
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Johnson, S. (2011), Gray-headed Lemur (Eulemur cinereiceps) Abundance and Forest Structure Dynamics at Manombo, Madagascar. Biotropica. 43, (371-379).
Jones, J and Mijasoa, M. The Importance of Taboos and Social Norms to Conservation in Madagascar. Con. Bio. 22 (976-986).
Smith, AP; Horning, N and Moore, D. (1997), Regional Biodiversity Planning and Lemur Conservation with GIS in Western Madagascar. Con. Bio. 11, (498-512)
Sussman, RW; Green, GM; and Sussman LK. Satellite Imagery, Human Ecology, Anthropologym and Deforestation in Madagascar. Hum. Ecol. 22, (333-354).