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“Owl Monkeys in Argentina, with Dr. Fernandez-Duque”

Rachel Gittelman, 2009,

After receiving a College Alumni Society Research Grant I was able to spend two months in Formosa, Argentina this summer on Dr. Fernandez-Duque’s Owl Monkey research site. Because Owl Monkeys are one of the few species of monogamous primates Dr. Fernandez-Duque seeks to explain how and why this monogamy is maintained. During my time there he was conducting data collection on female hormones as well as investigations into how the harsh winter months affect a group’s demography and foraging. The foraging study will ultimately help reveal whether or not a territory could potentially support polygynous groups with multiple females. To do this, I assisted in collecting and processing daily fecal samples for hormone extraction from the females in the four main study groups of Aotus Azarai and completed roughly fifteen full day follows of these groups in which I recorded data on the monkeys’ foraging behaviors during dozens of foraging bouts.

While much of the information I collected will be used by my professor, Dr. Fernandez-Duque, I also collected a wealth of data for my own investigation into the monkeys’ foraging habits. Whenever possible I recorded the order in which each individual from the group entered and left each tree during foraging bouts. This information will help give me insight into which individual makes the foraging decisions and leads the group. In addition, this data taken during the winter season when infants are already more self-sufficient can be compared to similar data taken directly after the birth season when more parental care is required. This will help shape hypotheses pertaining to parental investment, which is an important aspect of social behavior in any monogamous species.

The breadth of my small study is actually much larger than I had originally planned as researchers from the previous winter, as well as additional researchers from this winter have collected similar data to use as well. This gives me data spanning two winters, as well as parallel data on multiple groups a day to analyze. As some researchers are still collecting data through August, I will begin work on analyzing my results with Dr. Fernandez-Duque this coming fall in his Primate Field Methods and Data Analysis class.

To say that my stay in Argentina afforded me useful research experience would be leaving out other incredibly important parts of the trip. In fact, receiving the College Alumni Society Research Grant allowed me so many more opportunities. In addition to working on my Spanish, I got to go camping for the first time ever (researchers are housed at a campsite only ten minutes away from the actual field site), meet many other researchers from around the world, improve my cooking skills using limited resources, and of course, learn a vast amount about the local culture and wildlife. I am so grateful I was given this chance, and although the trip was certainly hard at times and challenged me in nearly every way I can think of, I already look back on it fondly and am eager to see what story the data will tell this fall.

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