The Importance of Background Research and Methodology in Anthropology


Student-Faculty Seminar: Anthropology of Death

In the second and third modules, the importance of background research and methodology in anthropology was emphasized. The second module, led by Dr. Bender, focused on linguistics and the idea of death and language. The students in her module were told to find anthropological articles that focused on either language death or a particular culture’s discourse regarding death. Kelci, Jacob, and Beth did their presentation on language death, specifically associated with the Cherokee language. Their presentation began with well-organized background research. First, they discussed basic concepts and terms associated with language death. Next, they explained what language death was and how a language can become endangered. Finally, they went into what it means for the culture if its language were to die. The group also talked about how many languages there are in the world today and at what rate they were dying. The specific case study that was examined…

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Week 16: Lemur Center Reflections


My visit to the Duke Lemur Center this semester was not my first. I am from Durham, and having grown up around DUke, my family and I frequently took visit, and I actually even took several field trips with my middle school! During my sophomore year I was a part of an Animal Science class that required me to participate in a Sustained Agricultural Experience (not until later would I discover another meaning of an SAE), and I chose to volunteer at the lemur center. I followed so many tours that I almost completed my training to become a tour guide! During my time at the gift shop, I frequented interactions with Duke University physical anthropology majors, and the studies they were conducting through the Lemur Center were fascinating to me. During this experience, I decided to become an anthropology major and I haven’t looked back once.

During the summer after my freshman year at Wake, I got to conduct research for a woman named Anne Yoder who is the director of the Lemur Center. Dr. Yoder is one of the most incredible people I have ever met, and she loves lemurs as much as Dr. Rodrigues loves spider monkeys. After conducting some fairly simple research (more like data mining) through the NCBI GenBank, Dr. Yoder took us on a behind the scenes tour of the lemur center. We first got to enter into the Aye-Aye enclosure, which was amazing. I love how the enclosures for the nocturnal lemurs are light-controlled so that their sleep schedules coincide with humans. The Aye-Aye itself was super cool, and I got to see its middle tapping finger in action! We also got to see the red ruffed lemur (who was really loud!) The coolest part of the tour was when we got to travel into the outside enclosure to be with the sifakas and ring tailed lemurs.

I loved seeing the sifakas, who are my favorite lemur, moving by brachiation in the trees and on the fenced roof and hopping on the ground. We were instructed to maintain a relatively safe distance from the sifakas who can exhibit aggressive behavior. Which, though important for obvious reasons, was difficult to do 😦 The ring tailed lemurs were also so awesome, and I got to feed one! They are clearly very habituated to humans, and approached us fairly quickly. It was clear that the female ring tailed lemurs dominated the scene. The males made no attempt to receive their food before the females, which was interesting to me. If a male came to close to the food bearers, the females would verbally let him know that was not cool. The ring tailed lemurs also exerted some dominance over the sifakas, who maintained a safe distance away in the trees.

One of my favorite parts about the lemur center is the noises you can hear while roaming around. It feels as though you are in the midst of Madagascar jungle, and different individuals interact with one another, even though you cannot see them.

Coquerl's ShifakaThis is a picture I took of a coquerel’s sifaka. I love these lemurs because of the way they move and their overall demeanor. I really like the yellow eyes and their colors!

photo 1The ring tailed lemurs were not scared of us at all and they were super cute.


Week 15: Fossey Archives – Conservation


rwanda volcano

Gorilla Habitat Preservation in Rwanda: An Examination of the Conflict Between Local Human Needs and the Endangered Population of Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda’s Parc des Volcans

This document is a proposed study by Dr. Dian Fossey in an attempt to analyze human encroachment and other conservation problems on the mountain gorillas in northwest Rwanda. This article had a great deal of detail, as it was a proposal for a study; it had great information about the methodology and practicality or logistics of the study.

Fossey’s proposed project was an 18 month study of the past, present and future statuses of mountain gorillas in Rwanda, the ones that she primarily focused on during her research. She examines the history of gorilla inhabitants in the volcano region of Rwanda as well as an examination of the current state of the gorillas. The study also attempts to look at “human encroachment,” by looking at the ways in which this problem manifests itself in northwest Rwanda. The study also provides “alternative practices and regional development plans” in order to assist local inhabitants in sustainability and conservation to subsequently help gorilla populations.

The Rwandan government, in the 1970s, appropriated the land for various projects. At the time of the study, 10,000 hetacres of the gorilla land had been taken from the park boundaries. Human encroachment occurred not only through the government, but some practices did not mean to harm gorilla habitats, but did so on an equally harmful scale. The article notes grazing practices from pastoral farmers, wood-cutting and grass-cutting. These types of clearings have important negative implications for gorilla migration and therefore species sustainability.

The overall intent of the article is not made clear right away, but after reading through the entire document, it became obvious that the most effective way Fossey could help conservation efforts was through population growth, plain and simple. The methods for the proposed study centered around studying gorilla populations to determine the best possible ways to help achieve this goal.

This article first focuses on how statutes and law enforcement must be strong in order to help preserve these lands. It also proposes that in order to truly determine gorilla habitat needs, we must look at group-interactions. By looking at the behavior of the gorillas, it can provide and “overall evaluation of habitat essential for preservation.”

This study truly desired the support from the local community, especially in the “planning and implementation of alternative resource development project.” The study suggests that appealing to the emotions of the public could help garner sympathy and therefore support. It seems as though the article wanted to ensure local practices could be maintained, though slightly altered to ensure human encroachment on gorilla territory was kept at a minimum. This study looks not only at how to adjust the lifestyles of local populations, but it makes heavy attempts to ensure the popularity of the efforts. The proposal calls for public awareness; through efforts to educate the public, particularly the local public, the study could gain support for conserving gorilla habitat.

The proposed study gives good information about how we can go about studying conservation in gorillas, and other species, for that matter, even today. The proposal exhibited several pros and cons. I particularly liked how the approach was oriented towards population regeneration, as that is essentially the meat of the problem. It was also great that the study would attempt to reach out to the local communities. It was very much a grassroots movement, and working from the bottom up ensures sustainability of not only gorilla populations, but also the local inhabitants as well. This study does not, however, give a lot of information about how they attempted to deal with the Rwandan government. I imagine that today there are quite a deal of safety hazards and difficulties working through the government that might not have existed in 1977.


Wake Forest University’s Howard T.P. Hayes Special Collections and Archives documents on Dian Fossey Collection. Box 13, Document Number MS 595.


Week 14: Polyspecific Associations


In Primate Behavioral Ecology, Strier outlines various polyspecific relationships and their contexts within the forest. Polyspecific associations occur when multiple species interact at the same time in the same place, and engaging in interactions that are beneficial for both parties involved. These behaviors must be repeated and meaningful actions and exist for a specific purpose. These interactions are less competitive and more interactive.

Red colobus monkeys and Diana monkeys, which are both old world monkeys that inhabit West Africa frequently associate with one another for various benefits. Red colobus monkeys  are a species that establish hierarchies of dominance based upon various behaviors. They typically eat leaves, flowers and other fruits. An interesting aspect of red colobus monkeys that helps define their polyspecific association with Diana monkeys is their relationship with chimpanzees. Chimpanzees typically hunt and feed off of smaller mammals, such as these colobus monkeys. I imagine that this is what a Red colobus monkey looks like when it realizes a chimpanzee is near:

The other half of this polyspecific association is the Diana monkey. The Diana monkey is also an Old World monkey from West Africa. The Diana monkey is socially structured with a single male and several fertile females. These monkeys also have fairly obvious vocal and visual signals for things like predators and other social behavior. Similar to the Red colobus monkeys, Diana monkeys eat leaves, fruit, and some small insects. The Diana monkeys are really interesting-looking, so here is a picture:

diana monkeys


By engaging in polyspecific associations, both species benefit in certain ways. In polyspecific associations there are typically two main ways in which species engage. One of the most common benefits some primates receive from these associations is increased foraging efficiency. Occasionally, two different species that have some dietary overlaps engage in mutually beneficial behaviors related to food gathering. If primates associate together but eat differing food resources there is very low competition, and finding appropriate food patches may be easier. Though there is relatively low levels of overlap in the diets of these two primates, it has been noted that some Diana monkeys will prey more on insects while associating with the colobus monkeys. Other than this, there is not, however, much data to prove that red colobus monkeys and Diana monkeys engage in polyspecific behaviors related to food foraging efficiency.  According to Strier, some colobus monkeys will spread their groups more to match that of the Diana monkeys as well, signifying that there is some amount of repeated, meaningful behavioral shifts.

There does, however, seem to be a strong correlation between protection from predation and interactions between these two species. While associating together, both species benefit by avoiding their common predators. When two differing species interact for mutual benefit, each species brings to the table a certain set of skills that the other may not have. When the Diana and colobus monkeys group together there are simply more individuals to help keep a look out for predators. Differing behavior between the two monkeys also helps to watch for prey; they are spatially distributed differently. Diana monkeys typically inhabit trees at a lower vertical niche than the red colobus monkies. Both species, therefore, are further protected from either aerial or terrestrial predators than they would be on their own.

Various studies show that while there are high threats of chimpanzee attacks on Red colobus monkeys, the species will increase their association with Diana monkeys. Chimpanzees typically hunt for colobus during the rainy season, which is when associations between colobus and Diana monkeys are the highest, which proves the relationship is beneficial and meaningful.



Week 13: Assessing Cognition in Apes


The Ape Genius video was a great way to learn more information about cognition in primates, specifically how we can assess these various levels of cognition. The main purpose of the video, as it started out, was to investigate the differences between human cognition and primate cognition. The researchers noted that they wanted to try to discover the small differences between human and animal cognition that created big differences between behavior and overall species capability. The way to go about answering this question was to ask the question: what kind of ape mind will lead a species to culture? The main conclusion that these researchers came to was that “culture” in apes was passed down based on a juvenile’s ability to copy behavior that he or she witnesses in older individuals.

A study that was conducted to assess cognition was designed based around a chimp’s ability to receive fruit rewards. A “slot – machine” like apparatus was designed where the chimpanzee had to turn a disk to release the grape, and then press a lever to actually receive the grape. While assessing how the chimp learned to get the grape, the researchers were able to determine how this individual chimpanzee learned through trial and error as well as imitation. Another way to study cognition that the video Ape Genius touches on includes studying tool usage in primates. My favorite study, however, was the one that involved a chimpanzee who was required to move a large block. After a while it became very clear to the chimpanzee that he would not be able to move it on his own and he sought out the researcher and led the researcher over to the box to help move it. In subsequent trials, the chimpanzee asked for help quicker.

One thing that I particularly liked about the video was how well it addressed the topic of anthropomorphism, which we have spent much time discussing in this class. The video, at one point, mentions that it is difficult to say what the animals are thinking. It is easy to anthropomorphize animals, especially apes – who are so similar to humans – but researchers must always be wary of those tendencies. By anthropomorphizing cognition in apes and other primates results can get cloudy, or we can be quick to jump to conclusions. What I think the video did particularly well, however, was refusing to discount the emotions that we can witness in primates. The video notes that while studying cognition in primates, such as facial expressions, visual communication, and other means of communication that it is “hard to dismiss their feelings.” These researchers, though barring all preconceived notions of cognitive abilities and thoughts are at the same time addressing emotions or other cognitive experiences beyond just the behavioral and learned component.

This aspect, I think, expresses how the video made it a point to compare humans and animal cognition because of our relationship within the animal kingdom. Through the video I was able to see how cognitive studies on apes can break down the boundaries we have built between humans and “beasts.” Learning by imitation is not present in only humans, and that forces us to reformulate what actually separates us from our closest relatives.


This experiment is to test working memory in chimpanzees, while assessing their ability to understand what the study calls “symbolic representation,” meaning they used numerical sequences.

The chimpanzees come in voluntarily to participate in the research study. Each one uses a computer monitor to follow various sequences. They eventually learn numerical sequences and can touch the correct numbers in the correct order. If an incorrect number is touched, the sequence starts over. This was impressive to me, but there’s more. After the sequence has been finished, it starts over. The chimpanzee can then touch the numbers in the correct order, even though the numbers are masked. These tasks are very difficult, and show that sometimes the chimpanzees.

The conclusions showed that some younger chimpanzees have better working memories than adult humans, but when it came to symbol matching they were much less proficient. These results show similarities and differences in human and chimpanzee cognition.

I liked how this study showed how the chimpanzees were being taken care of, and the video starts off by showing the layout of the research station, and how it is structured like a chimpanzee natural environment. I do wish, however, the study could have provided other means of assessing memory, because it is such a general term, and perhaps it could have been studied with several different tasks.


Matsuzawa T. 2009. “Symbolic representation of number in chimpanzees.” Curr Opin Neurobiol. 19(1): 92-98.

Week 12: Article Review II


I decided to do my second article review on an article I found while doing more research on my paper topic. I started my research by looking at a few publications from Anne Yoder, a woman with whom I worked for during the past two summers.

This article, “Effects of Anthropogenic Disturbance on Indri (Indri indri) Health in Madagascar” describes physiological changes that have occurred in various indri populations across eastern Madagascar due to human encroachment.

The paper begins by looking at the pressure that has been placed upon lemur populations – specifically the indri – because of “anthropogenic disturbance” such as deforestation and hunting (Junge et al, 2011). These problems and sources of stress upon populations mostly occur through habitat destruction  that alters the natural resources available to the local populations, fragmentation of species and overall degeneration of habitats from things like mining and agricultural purposes.

The authors of this article do a good job in giving their paper purpose early on, and make their aims very clear. The key purpose of this article was to look at varying health effects as a result of this human disturbance to determine the specific causes and effects to therefore understand the best ways to go about monitoring and sustaining those endangered populations.

The article looks at various determinants of health in the indri species and assess these health determinants in various ways. They first describe a few characteristics of the indri – they are diurnal and folivorous. They live at relatively low altitude rainforests along the eastern coast of the island. The indri is particularly susceptible to conservation problems due to their fragmented sub-populations; the researchers also describe the problems regarding a small captive population in the indri.

The study areas involved came from two different locations, both of which expressed different amounts of human disturbance in order to cross-compare the health effects of the indri. The first Betampona Strict Nature Reserve (BSNR) and the second Analamzazaotra Forest complex (AFC) and I dare you to try and say that word out loud. The paper reminded us that it is important to understand that the indri in both populations have a large amount of human contact with relatively close interactions and therefore have become highly habituated to humans.

While collecting samples, the paper noted, the process involved “collaboration between field biologists and veterinarians,” in order to fully understand the effects upon the populations. (Junge et. al, 2011). The sample collection was conducted through blood samples of free-ranging indri, and fecal samples from the rectum or from new fecal specimens. Fun. The article goes into a great deal of depth regarding the laboratory procedures and statistical analysis to determine whether or not there was a significant difference in data across many different health factors. The results showed the ranges expressed in different populations in respect to certain elements and qualities such as potassium, glucose, globulin, magnesium, etc…

The overall results showed that the indri who lived in habitats with more levels of destruction and disturbance exhibited more physiological changes than those who inhabited a more pristine forest. The discussion does an excellent job of presenting caveats – or alternate expectations to this difference. There could be a large amount of factors that contribute to physiological change seen in indri populations. It could perhaps be related to sun exposure in the indri and how they handle their vitamin D; or it could also be related to the various altitudes among different rainforest locations.

The article goes into a great deal of depth about what happens to indri health as a result of human encroachment. There are harmful effect on lemur biodiversity, including reduction in the “richness, abundance, distribution, genetic diversity, reproductive success,” and other effects upon the species. (Junge et. al, 2011). These effects are particularly evident in small populations, and also make the lemur populations more likely to be negatively affected by large scale environmental problems such as higher instances of parasite infections.

My favorite aspect of the paper was its call for change at the end of the discussion. The authors used the effects to present and problem as well as a means of changing it. According to the paper, we must engage in “long-term consistent monitoring of the effects of disturbance” to ensure that we can successfully maintain and preserve the species.

Overall, I particularly enjoyed reading this paper. The purposes and outcomes were very clear and easy to follow. It also had specific relevance to my paper topic and gave me good direction in moving forward with my research. However, it was a little above my understanding in many parts. I would love to have extensive biological and lab knowledge in order to better understand the health effects and how the authors concluded their statistical significance. I think this paper presents a wonderful jumping – off point for future research and conservation efforts in Madagascar. It certainly inspired me and I hope it inspires you!

Junge RE, Barrett MA, Yoder AD. 2011. Effects of Anthropogenic Disturbance on Indri (Indri indri) Health in Madagascar. Am J Primatol 73:1-11.


Week 11: Paper Proposal


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!

Ganzhorn, JU; Fietz, J; Rakotovao, E; Schwab, D; and Zinner, D. Lemurs and the Regeneration of Dry Deciduous Forest in Madagascar. Con. Bio. 13, (794-804).

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).