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CIE Researcher of Distinction, April 2015

James P. Herrera

James P. Herrara
 
Each month, the Center for Inclusive Education showcases the outstanding research being conducted by one of our talented scholars in our Research Café series. In addition, we recognize this scholar as a Researcher of Distinction and share the details of his/her journey to becoming an accomplished scholar. This month's Researcher of Distinction is James P. Herrera, PhD candidate in Anthropological Sciences. James presented his talk, 'The History and Mystery of Life on Madagascar’ on Wednesday, April 15, 2015.
 
James's Path Into Research

James was born in Miami, FL and grew up on Long Island, NY where he attended MacArthur High School. He became fascinated about primates while working at a zoo. His experience led him to take his first primatology class and eventually to obtain a BA in Biology and Anthropology at the University of Miami in 2009. During a Study Abroad program in Madagascar, James was introduced to Dr. Patricia Wright and her research. He decided to pursue his PhD at Stony Brook to further explore how life on Madagascar came to be. James is currently a Turner Fellow and an AGEP-T Fellow. Looking back to his high school years, James enjoyed classes, but liked sports even more. Currently, being active has become a part of James’ research as he treks through rainforests and climbs mountains.

James's Current Research

Describe the work you will be presenting for your Research Café.

The endemic primates of Madagascar, called lemurs, are an exceptional example of evolutionary processes. They are extraordinarily diverse, and ~100 species are currently found in rainforests, dry forests and deserts. Seventeen giant species have gone extinct in the last 2000 years. Lemurs have fascinated researchers since the first natural history studies. How many species are there? How did they diversify in form and function? Did species diversify because of ecological specialization, or were species geographically isolated by rivers and mountains? I approach these research questions from a comparative perspective, testing hypotheses in the framework of the lemur evolutionary tree.

Are there any other projects you are currently working on?

My research investigates the evolutionary ecology of lemurs. How many species are there? How did they diversify in form and function? My research questions truly fascinate me, but I also developed a passion for capacity-building. With an amazing Malagasy PhD student, I initiated sustainability projects in an unprotected forest. I trained local people as research assistants and in farming alternatives that improve crop yield and decrease deforestation.

What was the deciding factor for you to come to Stony Brook for your graduate studies?

The Study Abroad program in Madagascar brought me to a new world where I met my current advisor, Dr. Patricia Wright. I got my first taste of field research and was immediately addicted. I was also inspired by the capacity-building activities Dr. Wright initiated to improve the livelihoods of impoverished people. This experience was the deciding factor for me; I realized I needed to earn a PhD at Stony Brook with Dr. Wright. I wanted to know how so many species of lemurs came to be, as well as help protect the lemurs from extinction.

What are your future goals?

My goals are to expand on my research questions with primates and develop new conservation actions in Madagascar. As a postdoctoral fellow at the American Museum of Natural History, I will broaden my project to include all primates, which is an exciting opportunity.

What do you enjoy most about research?

What I enjoy most about research: to ask questions that excite me and develop new ways to answer those questions.

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