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

Welcoming Back SBU Winter Study Abroad

By Johanna Mitra, ICTE/CVB Communications Officer; January 25th, 2023

2023 Winter Study AbroadCentre ValBio kicked off the new year with a visit from the Winter Study Abroad students from Stony Brook University. For three weeks, 20 SBU students, two Malagasy students from the University of Antananarivo, as well as Dr. Mónica Ramírez, a primatologist from Colombia, Jon Romano, a zoo veterinarian from Long Island University, and Dotty Shaffer, a medical doctor from Cincinnati, conducted research alongside CVB’s conservation and health teams. Also overlapping with the study abroad group was a visit from SBU President Maurie McInnis and U.S. Ambassador Claire A. Pierangelo. This was an exciting opportunity for President McInnis to see students in action and out in the field! Between excursions to the town and markets of Ranomafana, lectures on Madagascar’s history and biodiversity given by Dr. Patricia Wright, and guided hikes in the national park, each student developed a research project that aligned with their interests and CVB’s mission. Projects ranged from lemur behavior and insect diversity to pediatric health, and all were impressively designed and executed.

The Health Team, led by Dr. Thomas and joined by Dr. Dotty Shaffer and six Stony Brook students, set out for a three-day expedition to the remote village of Ampitambe to deliver free healthcare to residents. Senior Dillon Pekoff surveyed villagers seeking care to try and determine the leading cause of fever. Ocean Karim, also in his last year at Stony Brook, examined which diagnoses were most common amongst the pediatric patients seen by the Health Team. Sabrina Felix, a master’s student at SBU, collected blood pressure measurements to assess the correlation between hypertension and magnesium deficiency.

Health Team Expedition

The CVB Health Team on an expedition to Ampitambe.  Photo courtesy of Ocean Karim

Back at Ranomafana National Park, the lemur teams split up to conduct observational studies. Antsa Ramboninarimalala and Finaritra Benjamin studied how weather can affect activity patterns in golden bamboo lemurs. Sophie Thomas, Alex Casamassima, and Marissa McCandless followed Simone, a greater bamboo lemur, to better understand how her status as the last remaining individual of her species in the park might influence her behavior. Marie Collison closely observed the only infant within the Group I Milne-Edwards’s sifaka for a comprehensive look at group dynamics.

The insect team, with SBU students Megumi Imaizumi, Michelle Kiroff, Tania Valenzuela Lozano, and Julianna Dovi, split their time between Ranomafana’s bamboo and guava forests to compare insect abundance and diversity in the two habitats. With the help of CVB’s research technicians, the students also collected insects to be preserved, studied, and added to CVB’s growing Insectarium in the biodiversity lab.

Sarah Vaccaro, a first-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at Stony Brook, began her research on aquatic tenrecs, a small and incredibly elusive species endemic to Madagascar. Working together with CVB’s Emile Rajeriarison, a local expert in Ranomafana’s biodiversity, Sarah recorded data on stream characteristics and set up pitfall traps with the hopes of observing aquatic tenrecs. She plans to continue her research next year at CVB.

Student PresentationsThe student’s projects culminated in a series of presentations given to CVB staff, representatives of Madagascar National Parks, faculty members from the University of Fianarantsoa, as well as SBU’s President and the U.S. Ambassador. It was impressive to see how the students made the most of their short stay at CVB and Ranomafana. As President McInnis expressed it, “For each one of them, this has been not only an intellectual journey but also a personal journey. They’ll go back home with not only a different appreciation of the world but also a different appreciation of themselves.”

Students from the Health Team expedition present their findings to their peers, SBU President Maurie McInnis, and other distinguished guests. Photo courtesy of Johanna Mitra