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Hands-on science to sustain Madagascar's resources and people

SBU Summer Study Abroad Present at the University of Fianarantsoa

On June 28th, our SBU Summer Study Abroad students presented the results of their independent research projects to faculty, staff, and students at the University of Fianarantsoa. Read their project topics and abstracts below. 


Seed dispersal by Varecia variegata at Ranomafana National Park - Jean Comin, Biology @ University of Fianarantsoa

Jean CominAs more of the forests of Madagascar are destroyed each year because of anthropogenic activities, the black and white ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata) becomes increasingly important to study as one of Madagascar’s best seed dispersers. The Varecia is one of the most effective seed dispersers among primates. The goal of this study is to identify the potential species of food that the black and white ruffed lemurs eat, the number of seeds they disperse, and determine which species is the most dispersed. We hypothesize that the black and white ruffed lemurs have their preferred fruits and would be the most dispersed. We observed that black and white ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata) consumed primarily ripe fruits followed by unripe fruits and sometimes leaves. Then, we collected 31 fecal samples, we found that 16 of them were without seeds and 15 were with seeds. Every time they defecated; we quantified the number of seeds in each sample. To analyze our data, Microsoft Excel was used. The results of this short-term study showed us that Varecia consumed 5 species of plant and Chrysophyllum boivinuanum (Rahiaka) species are found most often in Varecia fecal samples and this is their preferred species. Through these results, we can conclude the diversity and abundance of seeds being dispersed by these lemurs in Talatakely areas, and by understanding the species of seeds most commonly found in Varecia fecal samples, we can get knowledge about the resilience and adaptability of certain plant species to deforestation. This information can lead to reforestation efforts by prioritizing the protection of plants such as Chrysophyllum boivinuanum species that produce these preferred seeds and this can increase the chances of attracting and supporting lemur populations in restored habitats.

Analysis of parasite presence in lemurs of Ranomafana National Park - Sasha Winter, Sustainable Development and Biology @ University of St. Andrews

Propithecus edwardsi “stepfathers”: Social Interactions of New Males - Leah Schwarz, Anthropology and Marine Science @ Stony Brook University

Road Edge Effects on Mouse Lemurs (Microcebus rufus) at Ranomafana National Park - Jake Butkevich, Environmental Studies @ Stony Brook University

Jake ButkevichThis study will investigate road edge effects on Microcebus rufus by studying their abundances of at varying distances from the road at Ranomafana National Park. This is important because there are few studies examining edge effects on M. rufus and increasing forest fragmentation in its habitat. It is believed that M. rufus will be more abundant closer to the road because the more open canopy will allow more understory growth, which M. rufus has been shown to prefer. To perform this study, a total of 60 Sherman traps will be set in 2 transects perpendicular to the road; 2 traps will be set every 10 meters, so each transect will have a length of 150 meters. Traps will then be checked and the number of lemurs counted to see where a mouse lemur is more likely to be trapped. Vegetation will be sampled within a 2 meter radius of where the trap is set to determine the correlation between the presence of mouse lemurs and vegetation present. Data will be analyzed by using the presence or absence of M. rufus in each location to determine where it is most abundant, and the correlation between vegetation density and mouse lemur presence will also be determined. It is expected that mouse lemurs are to be more abundant closer to the road and that there is a positive correlation between mouse lemur presence and understory density. We hope to conclude that M. rufus conservation should focus on things other than the effects of habitat edges.

Propithecus edwardsi vocalizations: call type and duration in relation to group size - Elizabeth Raczkowski, Environmental Studies @ Stony Brook University

Propithecus teamMany lemur species rely on distinctive vocalizations as a primary means of communication within their social groups. Along with olfactory communication, Milne-Edwards’s Sifakas (Propithecus edwardsi) communicate vocally, using “contact” and “moving” calls to maintain group cohesion. This is in addition to distinct calls like the “bark alarm” and “sneeze” vocalizations that alert nearby individuals of predators. Despite the importance of vocalizations in understanding social dynamics, research on strepsirrhine vocalizations, particularly in less vocal species like Propithecus edwardsi, remains limited compared to haplorhine taxa. This study aims to address this gap by exploring whether the duration and type of Milne-Edwards's Sifaka vocalizations differ when individuals are isolated from the group compared to interactions in close proximity to others. To investigate this, recorded audio of Propithecus edwardsi vocalizations was collected and analyzed from both isolated and social contexts. Additionally, focal follows were conducted to observe the group size and call types associated with different call durations. Through this integrated approach, a permutation test was used to examine the potential correlation between call type and the number of individuals present during vocalizations, as well as the relationship between call duration and the number of individuals. Ultimately, the results of the permutation test did not reveal any statistically significant associations between these variables. These findings suggest that, within the sample, there is a lack of strong evidence to support a direct link between call type or call duration and the number of individuals engaged in the vocalization event. This study highlights the complexity of lemur vocal communication and emphasizes the need for further investigation to better comprehend the factors influencing call variation and social dynamics in Propithecus edwardsi.

Diet of Propithecus edwardsi in Ranomafana National Park - Gerrit Bittmann, Health Science and Anthropology @ Stony Brook University

For this research the patterns of diet and nutrition in the Milne-Edwards Sifaka will be examined. Nutrition and diet factor into all aspects of these Sifakas life, without the proper food availability many behavioral characteristics can be lost as well as physiological functions. What is the current diet and feeding habits of Propithecus edwardsi in Ranomafana National Park? Propithecus edwardsi will have mainly a frugivorous diet with supplementation in leaves and seeds when available as well as soil for nutrients, fruit consumption is dependent on the fruiting season. Methods of this field observation will be in the form of focal sampling, following general behaviors of individuals on an interval of five minutes. Diet and eating habits will be observed in further detail. This entails observing each feeding bout, what the sifakas are eating, how long they are eating, and time of eating, to collect information on frequency of feeding. Data analysis will look for frequency of feeding, item being eaten, and time spent feeding. This data will be analyzed to build an overview of their feeding behaviors and patterns in an excel spreadsheet. The results of this study are predicted to find that Propithecus edwardsi is primarily frugivorous, during the month of June in Ranomafana National Park, with additions of leaves, seeds, and soil for nutrients. The research conducted during the course of this study will further expand the base of knowledge on Propithecus edwardsi and the complexity of their dietary habits.

Foraging behaviors of Eulemer rufifrons during the fruiting season of an invasive fruit species Psidium cattleianumin Ranomafana National Park - Kai Wong,  Health Sciences @ Stony Brook University

The ecosystems of Madagascar are unique and isolated to the rest of the world. Invasive species such as the strawberry guava (Psidium cattleianum) affect native fauna and flora in ways we have yet to describe. This study explores the effects of the strawberry guava fruiting season on the food choice of red-fronted lemurs (Eulemur rufifrons) by observing their foraging behaviors and behaviors related to food choice. Over a three-day period, we conducted focal follows and recorded each instance of feeding, the type of food eaten, and the location of each feeding. Then, we returned to each feeding site to determine the types of available food nearby and the relative abundance of each available food. Data was analyzed using a Chi square independence test to compare the actual proportion to the expected proportion of times each type of food was chosen. We predicted that during guava fruiting season, the strawberry guava will be chosen more frequently than expected because of its availability and fruit quality during this time of year. The results of this study have implications for the continued proliferation of the strawberry guava, since lemurs are excellent seed dispersers in Madagascar, and for the decreasing plant biodiversity as the invasive strawberry guava continues to phase out native food sources for lemurs. 

The relationship between behavior & vocalization and tourist presence in Propithecus edwardsi - Ellora Klein, English and Anthropology @ UC Berkeley

The relationship between behavior/vocalization and human presence in Propithecus edwardsi will be examined. Connections between specific patterns of behavior and vocals in the sifakas in relation to the number of humans present and their distance from the animals will be identified. This topic is significant, as determining the relations between specific behaviors displayed by the sifakas and human presence can help in gaining a better understanding of how the sifakas interact with humans and react to their presence. Correlations between shifts in the behavior of the sifakas and shifts in the number of humans present and their behavior and distance from the animals can reveal how human presence affects the behavior of the sifakas and thus how best to interact with them in a way that doesn’t significantly alter their natural behavior. The research question that will be investigated is: How are the vocalizations and behaviors of the Milne-Edwards sifakas affected by the presence of humans? It is predicted that the sifakas will exhibit more relaxed behavior and vocalizations without the presence of humans, such as more time spent resting or grooming and lower volume vocalizations. It is also predicted that an increasing number of humans present or a decrease in the distance between human and sifaka will result in more energized behavior such as travel between trees, and higher volume and frequency vocalizations amongst groups of sifakas. To examine these behaviors, the sifakas will be followed and focals will be taken every five minutes, recording the vocalizations, behaviors, and identities of the sifakas. The number of humans present, their behavior, and their distance from the sifakas will also be recorded. The data will be analyzed by organizing and graphing it based on behavior, vocals, frequency of vocals, number of humans present, and distance between humans and sifakas, thus allowing patterns in the sifakas behaviors in the presence of humans to be identified. The data analysis will reveal how vocals/behaviors correlate with human presence. From this project, it is hoped that a clearer understanding of the sifakas behavior and how humans affect that behavior will be gained.

Grooming Patterns in Hapalemur aureus and Relationship to Sex - Olivia Olynciw, Human Evolutionary Biology @ Stony Brook University

Grooming is an important social behavior for many primates and can serve many functions. In many primate and lemur species, allogrooming occurs “up” the hierarchy, which may potentially be witnessed in Hapalemur aureus. In Verreaux’s sifaka, males increased grooming behavior in and around the mating season to garner favor from females, and immigrant males also appear to perform this behavior to negotiate their way into a new social group. Allogrooming in lemurs is an under-researched topic, and learning more about the frequency of allo vs autogrooming behaviors may help to elucidate the significance of such as social interactions in H. aureus. While autogrooming is anticipated to be observed more frequently due to its functional nature, perhaps the length of allogrooming bouts will be different from the former. This research aims to determine whether H. aureus engages in more allo or autogrooming, as well as if there is any relationship between sex and allogrooming frequency and duration. Ad libitum data on autogrooming and allogrooming bout time start and finish, as well as the sex of both individuals involved in the interaction. Results suggested that while autogrooming bouts were initiated almost three times more than allogrooming bouts were, the allogrooming bouts were significantly longer. Unfortunately with the scope of this project, there were no statistical analyses that were able to be performed on the relationship between sex and groomer initiator/recipient. Given the uncertainty surrounding the relationship between sex and allogrooming, future research will need to be performed to best determine what this relationship may be.


Plants, Fungi, and Insects

Mushroom Presence by Calophyllum inophyllum Trees and Their Potential Use as a Predictor for Animal Presence in Ranomafana National Park, Madagascar - Victoria Bayevskiy, Psychology and Ecosystems and Human Impact @ Stony Brook University

This topic expands on the function of fungal diversity and mycorrhizae as possible predictors of animal presence, through mycorrhizal support of nutrient uptake in Calophyllum trees. It is important to study this topic because if mushroom presence can predict animal presence around Calophyllum trees, it could affect where lemurs, birds, and insects can be found and, subsequently, where they can be studied. The goal of this study was to predict the correlation between fungal presence and animal presence around Calophyllum trees in Ranomafana National Park (RNP) in Madagascar. It was predicted that there will be a strong correlation between mushroom presence and animal presence near Calophyllum trees in RNP. Each tree was selectively chosen, evaluated for a fungal presence within 5 meters, and monitored for 1 hour to note all animal visits. There were a total of 16 trees evaluated over 3 days. The data was analyzed with a Spearman’s correlation to assess the strength of the correlation between fungal presence and animal presence. The results of the data analysis show that although there is not a strong correlation between fungal presence and animal presence by Calophyllum trees, there was a higher total number of animal visits to trees that had a fungal presence. This research may indicate that mushrooms are important to the RNP ecosystem and can beneficially impact Calophyllum trees and animal populations and should be studied further as existing research is extremely limited.

Inventory of Medicinal Plants around Ranomafana National Park and Reviewing Theoretical Bases for Claimed Benefits - Ved Gautam, Biology @ Stony Brook University

Effectiveness of coloration defense mechanisms exhibited by Acherontia atropos at Ranomafana National Park - Sarina Graziano, Biology @ SUNY Oneonta

Aposematic coloration as well as camouflage are two physical traits expressed by a variety of biota globally and acts as a visual defense against predation. Does A. atropos’s expression of both aposematism and camouflage prevent more predatory attacks than if it were to express only aposematic coloration traits or camouflage traits on its wings? I hypothesized that if A. atropos expresses both aposematism and camouflage on its wings it would experience less predation than if it were to express only one coloration trait on its wings. To test this, 30 models of A. atropos were created, with 10 representing both coloration traits, 10 representing only aposematism, and 10 representing only camouflage. One of each model type was placed in a transect and monitored daily for marks of predation over the course of 5 days. Once 5 days of data collection was completed a bar graph was created. The results suggested that a combination of aposematism and camouflage coloration as oppose to one coloration type throughout A. atropos’s wings promotes greater predatory defense. These results may further suggest that the evolution of A. atropos evolved in a way which increases species success.



Social Factors Promoting Meat Consumption in Food Insecure Malagasy Villages - Marleene Pilkey, Human Evolutionary Biology @ Stony Brook University

This research project aims to survey local Malagasy villagers on what they eat, more specifically, what their meat consumption comes from. Unfortunately, some of Madagascar's leading public concerns are food poverty and malnutrition, which heavily contribute to an overall food insecure country. A country suffering from food poverty is forced to drop to drastic measures such as eating bushmeat when other meat products are not affordable. Not only is this endangering already endangered primates, but it also risks the health of those who consume it. This project is expected to provide insight into possible reasonings behind bushmeat consumption and what can be done to diminish it. My hypothesis is that the villagers who find it difficult to afford meat products will eat meat in less frequent intervals. To conduct this, the study will include interviews with various Madagascar villages composed of questions regarding diet, taboos, and affordability. Statistical tests will be used to analyze the data and compare the frequency of bushmeat being consumed, as well as juxtapose which villages it is the most prevalent based on the various occupations of the interviewees.

An Assessment of Social Factors Potentially Affecting the Measles Vaccination Status of Children in the Ifanadiana District of Madagascar - Shreya Addepalli, Psychology and Globalization Studies & International Relations @ Stony Brook University

Health StudentsMeasles is a highly transmittable childhood disease that is best prevented by vaccination as no specific cure exists. From September 2018 to January 2020, Madagascar faced one of the world’s worst measles epidemics in decades with almost 250,000 cases. Its poor health infrastructure– a country where only 60 percent of the population lives within 5 km of a health center–has resulted in measles immunization coverage well below the threshold for herd immunity. Rural portions of the country, such as the Ifanadiana District–the focus of this study–are especially vulnerable to low societal awareness of vaccination benefits and limited access to health clinics even though immunizations are free nationally. This study aims to evaluate potential factors affecting childhood measles vaccination such as distance from a health center, level of education, trust in vaccines, and the sex of a child. It is hypothesized that low vaccination levels will be observed in female children in villages far from health centers, with their parents possessing no greater than primary school education and low trust in vaccines. A community field survey will be conducted in four remote villages and questions will be asked to parents on behalf of their children regarding their child’s measles vaccination status, their own education level, and their views on vaccines. The results of the survey will be analyzed in RStudio to determine if there are significant differences in the number of vaccinated respondents. Potential conclusions are that the factors investigated do have an effect on vaccination status. The results of this study can potentially inform future remote village immunization initiatives by Centre ValBio’s Mobile Health Team.

Water quality in remote villages of Madagascar - Morgan Laskowski, Molecular Biology @ Purdue University

Madagascar currently faces a crisis accessing clean drinking water. State owned services manage water filtration systems with a high success rate, but only focus on urban populations, leaving remote Malagasy villages with unsafe water that is easily influenced by weather conditions and poor sanitation. This project will test water quality compared to the number of cases of gastrointestinal issues present in four remote village communities near Ranomafana National Park in Madagascar and aims to find a correlation between polluted water and illness, and to advocate for clean water filtration systems in the immediate future. If remote villages test for positive microbes such as E. coli in their drinking water, then there will be a large number of members of the community that experience symptoms of illness including severe stomach pain, dysentery, and kidney failure. The survey of villagers on their health status in the last six months related to water quality will be conducted as well as testing of each village’s drinking water. Three samples from three various water sources in each village will be collected and screened for E. coli. There is an expected outcome with a direct correlation between microbes present in community water and a high number of gastrointestinal issues within that community. While finding results that a large number of Ranomafana villages don’t have clean drinking water and have a high number of illnesses isn’t a positive outcome, it can hopefully lead to increased awareness of these communities and the installation of an easily accessible water filtration system.


Demographics of Ecotourism at Ranomafana National Park - Zachary Pollak, Psychology with minors in Anthropology and Environmental Studies @ Stony Brook University

This project aims to assess the current demographics of visitors to Ranomafana National Park during the tourist season.  Using this data it can be evaluated what demographics are most likely to come to the park, which demographics are underrepresented as tourists, and the most marketable aspects of the park such as flora, birds, Golden bamboo lemurs, Milne-Edwards’s Sifaka, etc,..  The research goal of this project is to be able to analyze the different demographics that are coming to the park for more efficient use of marketing tactics towards groups of people.  It is predicted that most tourists at the park will be middle-aged people from outside of the country of Madagascar.  The methods that will be used in this research are surveys.  Surveys will be given at the entrance of the park and to all tourist groups coming to Ranomafana National Park.  Data will then be analyzed through a spreadsheet, focusing on tourists' nationalities, age groups, factors that attracted them to the park, and whether they have visited before.  With this information, action can be taken such as marketing towards the unrepresented groups and doing further marketing towards the groups that are known to have interest in the park. 

Musical Messages: Reshaping the Water Cycle Curriculum for My Rainforest My World - Karrthik Pitchayan, Anthropology and Philosophy with a minor in Ecosystems and Human Impact @ Stony Brook University

Karrthik Pitchayan