Thursday, July 25, 2013

A general overview of my research

What exactly am I doing for three months in Madagascar? Taking a vacation, right? Sounds perfect! Sign me up!

Nope. Not even close.

I am going to beautiful Berenty Private Reserve in southern Madagascar to study the diet of Verreaux's sifakas in the wild. Specifically, I am studying differences in diet between males and females during the lactation period, or when the females have infants and are nursing them. I would expect differences in diet during lactation because, as any mother who breastfed her child can tell you, lactation is energetically costly. Think about it: you're eating for you and you're eating for another living, growing individual. I expect lactating females to potentially spend more time eating or to consume different foods than the males to meet their energetic needs. I also might expect lactating females to rest more and spend less time in social behaviors so that they can conserve their energy. In addition to looking at differences in diet between males and females, I am also examining differences in diet of sifakas in two forest types: gallery forest, which is much greener and more lush in comparison to the dry, almost desert-like spiny forest.

Gallery forest photo from Berenty's website taken by Allison Jolly

With the help of a Malagasy Master's student, six days a week we will locate and find four groups of sifakas, learn how to identify individuals based on markings and facial characteristics, and take behavioral data of what they eat. This means standing outside all day and meticulously recording in a notebook every item that these animals consume. It also means counting how many flowers they eat, how many bites of a leaf they take, or how many buds they pop into their mouth. We will hopefully identify the plant species they consume to look at differences between the species males and females eat and differences between gallery forest sifakas and spiny forest sifakas. That seventh day of the week? That day will be spend washing clothes and entering all of our written data from our notebooks into the computer. Still sound like a vacation? ;)

Spiny forest photo from Berenty's website taken by Cyril Ruoso
I am very eager to start my research, as it is always exciting to begin a project you have spent so much time, sweat, and tears working on. I know it's going to be a lot of work, and I will likely have to make plenty of adjustments after I arrive at Berenty and choose my study groups, but I am looking forward to all of this!

I have 90 days from the day my plane touches down in Madagascar to the time my plane leaves Madagascar to collect as much data as possible, and I plan to spend my time wisely. While of course there may be sick days, I do not plan on taking a week off to see the country or have a spa day because that means less time for data collection! It's always preferable to collect more data than less!

  • Critical thinking:  What might I have had to think about when designing my methods for this project?
  • Critical thinking: I am also going to record data on nonlactating females as a control. Why is having a control important?

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