Current Research Projects

The Ecology of Infection: A pilot study of zoonotic exchange among people, wildlife, and livestock around Ranomafana National Park, Madagascar

researchersDr. Patricia Wright, Institute for the Conservation of Tropical Environments (ICTE), Stony Brook University; Dr. James Bliska, Center for Infectious Diseases, Stony Brook University

Pathogens transmitted among wildlife, livestock, and humans pose a serious risk to both human health and wildlife conservation. Although we understand a great deal about the basic biology of these pathogens, we know very little about how and why they are transmitted between species in the first place. The overall goal of this project is to determine how and why anthropogenic changes to tropical forest ecosystems place people, livestock, and wildlife living in such ecosystems at increased risk of exchanging pathogens. We will test the central hypothesis that certain key human behaviors, wildlife behaviors, ecological conditions, and landscape features increase the risks of interspecific disease transmission. 

Understanding how anthropogenic disturbance affects interspecific disease transmission will lead to rational public health and conservation intervention strategies. These strategies will improve the health of humans living near wildlife habitats while also contributing to the conservation of the wildlife themselves. These strategies will also help prevent novel infectious diseases with wildlife origins from emerging out of environments such as Madagascar and affecting global human health. To address this goal, we will conduct an eco-epidemiological investigation of disease transmission in humans, livestock (cattle and pigs), and wildlife (lemurs and small mammals) in and around Ranomafana National Park. The eight villages that will be studied have high incidences of diarrheal disease, as well as seasonal plague outbreaks. We will examine how key human behaviors, wildlife behaviors, ecological conditions, and landscape features increase the risks of interspecific disease transmission via an integration of epidemiology, molecular ecology, behavioral ecology, social and clinical survey, and spatially explicit modeling. The ultimate products are implementable plans for protecting human and wildlife health while simultaneously ensuring the sustainability of the ecosystems within which they live.

Taxonomy, phylogeny, sociality, and web gigantism in orbicularian spiders

Dr. Ingi Agnarsson, Department of Biology, University of Puerto Rico, San Juan, Puerto Rico

Dr. Matja Kuntner, Institute of Biology, Scientific Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Ljubljana, Slovenia

Field Assistants: Matja Gregorič, Slovenia; Sahondra Lalao Rahanitriniaina, University of Antananarivo, Madagascar

Our research essentially focuses on two systems and their interplay: (1) social and solitary cobweb spiders (Theridiidae) and (2) the solitary orbweaving spiders (Orbiculariae, in particular, Araneidae, Nephilidae). Each system offers many research opportunities in their own right. Agnarsson works on the evolution of sociality in cobweb spiders, where the discovery of multiple, previously undescribed social Anelosimus species in Madagascar (previous fieldwork by Agnarsson and Kuntner in 2001, 2008) played a prominent role. However, further work is needed on the taxonomy and phylogeny of this species-rich but poorly known group of spiders in Madagascar. Kuntner works on nephilid taxonomy, phylogeny, sexual behavior, and web evolution. Important data came from our previous fieldwork in Madagascar. However, more detailed in-field studies are needed. These two systems also combine in research on web evolution. In our 2001 and 2008 expeditions we documented very unusual cases of web gigantism in the bark spider (Caerostris). These spiders build webs across rivers in Ranamafana and Andasibe-Mantadia reserves. We subsequently tested the silk of these spiders for their biomechanical properties and found it to be exceptionally strong—the strongest natural fiber currently known to man. The proposed fieldwork will be the first to sample extensively in-field data on these orbweavers, with the main aim of unraveling how the spiders build their webs across rivers and understanding their silk structure and how it relates to its exceptional strength. More broadly, we will focus on extensive sampling of Anelosimus, Caerostris, and nephilid spiders, all of which are abundant and species-rich in Madagascar but taxonomically poorly known with many as yet undescribed Madagascar endemic species.

Assessment of the impact of invasive species on native biodiversity in Ranomafana National Park

Dr. Summer J. Arrigo-Nelson, California University of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania
Mark C. Tebbitt, ICTE, Stony Brook University

Research Assistant: Rio, The Normal School, Madagascar

The proposed study will examine the long-term impact of invasive (non-native) plant and animal species on native plant and small mammal communities in Ranomafana National Park. It will collect baseline data for a longitudinal study to be conducted in conjunction with the California University of Pennsylvania/Stony Brook summer study abroad student program. We will establish a 4-km transect within Ranomafana National Park that extends from an area where invasive species (specifically strawberry guava, Psidium cattleianum) are dominant into more pristine forest (lacking invasive species). Throughout the course of the initial phase of this project, we will document, map, and interpret the current distribution of both native and non-native species of plants and small mammals along this transect. Statistical analysis will be used to determine whether a relationship exists between the abundance and distributions of particular invasive species and the diversity and density of the native flora and fauna. In future phases of this project, it is proposed that the methods established here be repeated annually to collect longitudinal data, which will provide comparative data documenting change in the forest regions along the transect over time.  This study will provide valuable data for land management, both in Madagascar and internationally, and will help us to gain an understanding of the impact of invasive plant and small mammal species on the native plant and small mammal species living within a tropical rainforest. To accomplish this goal, this project has two primary objectives:

    • Provide empirical data to Madagascar National Parks for use in land management decision-making
    • Provide hands-on training to both Malagasy and international undergraduate students

 1. It will assess the density and distribution of invasive plant and small mammal species along a transect encompassing both disturbed and undisturbed rainforest regions.

 2. It will look to determine whether a relationship exists between the abundance and distributions of these invasive species and the diversity and density of native plants and small mammals within these different areas.

Census for Prolemur simus in the Vondrozo District, southeastern Madagascar

Aspinall Foundation and WWF

This project sought to explore for traces and populations of the greater bamboo lemur, Prolemur simus, in the Vondrozo area of southeastern Madagascar

MMV Natural Products Project

PI: Jon Clardy, Department of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology, Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts

Research Collaborators: LaCASN, University of Antananarivo, Madagascar — Drs. Bakoli Andriamihaja, Bako Razanamahefa, Dorothe Razafimahefa

Research Assistants: LaCASN, Baovola Ratalata, Sania Mahamodo

Madagascar MMV Project—Natural Products—is part of a large program, Antimalarial Drug Discovery Project, led by Jon Clardy, Professor at the Department of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology at Harvard Medical School. This project aims to discover new drugs for malaria and is funded by Genzyme Corporation and the Broad Institute. Main goals include discovering natural products with significant activity in anti-malarial assays that can be used to identify new pathways or provide compounds to enter the screening cascade. Natural products have led to significant advances, both in their own right (quinine and artemisinin) and their ability to identify important targets and pathways (heme crystallization), in the malaria parasite. This project focuses on natural products from sources that can be cultured (bacteria and fungi) from unusual ecological niches. There will be a two-year pilot program in Madagascar.

Study of the role of vocalizations in social interactions of Avahi laniger (woolly lemur) and the creation of a vocal repertoire of this species

PI: Catherine D. Depeine, Ecology and Evolution, Stony Brook University 

This study will lead to a better understanding of the social behavior of monogamous primates and the role that vocalizations may play in maintaining that system. Monogamy is a rare social system in primates (Fuentes 1998). It is not well understood how this system evolved nor how it is maintained. Vocalizations in primates are directly linked to the social systems in which they occur. In many nonhuman primates, vocal repertoire size tends to increase with increasing group size (McComb and Semple 2005). More specifically, nonhuman primate loud calls are not only unique to each species, but also are optimized for sound transmission in noisy environments and long distances (Mitani and Stuht 1998, Waser and Brown 1984, Zimmermann et. al 2000). The study of vocalizations can lead to insights about the social system in which they occur.

The formation of a mating pair requires the identification of potential mates and the ability to differentiate mates from other opposite-sex individuals. In many nonhuman primates high intensity vocalizations seem to play a role in mate selection (Delgado 2006). Vocalizations may also play a role in inbreeding avoidance, containing characteristics that would enable individual differentiation. In a study on Papio ursinus it was found that vocalizations contain sex and age variation (Eye et al. 2007).  It has been demonstrated in several primate species that vocalizations also context specific (Zimmermann 1985, Pereira et al. 1988, Moody and Menzel Jr. 1976, Pollock 1986). A monogamous social system also involves territoriality where a mated pair defends a portion of land from both female and male intruders (Mitani 1987). The maintenance of territories involves aggressive interactions toward individuals that do not belong to the family group. Vocalizations also have been demonstrated to play a role in territory maintenance (Fan et al. 2009). Woolly lemurs are nocturnal primates where vocalizations are apt to play an important role in social interactions. Studying the vocalizations of this species will lead to insights into monogamy as a social system.


bird behavior teamEffects of climate change on wildlife and rainforest trees in Ranomafana National Park

PI: Dr. Amy Dunham, Assistant Professor, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Rice University, Houston, Texas

Participants: Dr. Volker Rudolf, Rice University; Onja Razafindratsima, University of Antananarivo/Rice University, Madagascar; Brian Maitner, student research assistant, Rice University; Margaret Diddams, Rice University; Amy Bridges, student research assistant, Rice University; Patrice Doda Ravonjiarisoa, Institut de Formation Technique Soarano, Madagascar

Nearly half of the world’s vascular plant species and one-third of terrestrial vertebrates are held within the 25 global “hotspots” of biodiversity. More than half of these hotspots consist of tropical rainforest, and we know very little about how global climate change is likely to affect the ecosystems and threatened wildlife held by these areas now limited to only 1.4% of the land. One of the hotspots containing the most endemic families and genera in the world is within the southeastern rainforest of Madagascar including Ranomafana National Park. Research has been intensive in Ranomafana National Park for the past 22 years where Patricia Wright and other researchers have collected decades of data on lemur survival and reproductive rates and have monitored 50 common rainforest tree species. We propose to build upon these data to evaluate associations of global oceanic cycles and climate variability with forest tree phenology and functioning and relate this to long-term demography of lemur and bird populations. Results will identify the mechanisms that link climate change to species interactions and population dynamics in one of the world’s “hottest” of global biodiversity hotspots.

A majority of trees exhibits periodicity in leafing, reproduction, and growth that is typically related to seasonal changes in temperature and rainfall in tropical regions. Thus, the most notable effects of climate change in forested ecosystems are likely to be related to changes in tree phenology, the timing of budburst or leaf fall related to climate change. Changes in periodicity of plant growth and reproduction are likely to have profound impacts on a diverse biota that depend upon seasonally available resources such as young leaves, pollen, nectar, fruits, and seeds. Synchronization of reproduction and growth at the population level is important for interactions such as cross-pollination, interactions with herbivores, seed predators and seed dispersers. Also, because trees are so long-lived, individuals are affected by changes in climate during their lifetime. By examining the relative importance of abiotic and biotic determinants of annual variations in bird and lemur populations and potential coupling of the long-term temporal dynamics of fruits and vertebrate dispersers, we will gain a more complete picture of the response of the vertebrate frugivore guild to climatic changes in this tropical region.


Conservation of Prolemur simus: Case of Ranomafana National Parklong-term monitoring for assuring species conservation at Vohitrarivo area

Dr. Anna TC Feistner and Mamy Rakotoarijaona, Madagascar National Parks, Ranomafana; Centre ValBio, Ranomafana, Madagascar


Biodiversity loss and fragmentation—matrix effects and ecosystem consequences using a hyperdiverse Malagasy amphibian assemblage as an example

PIs: Dr. Julian Glos, University of Hamburg, Germany; Dr. Mark-Oliver Rödel, University of Hamburg, Museum of Natural History at the Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany

PhD Students: Jana Rienmann, University of Hamburg, Germany; Serge,University of Antananarivo, Madagascar

Fragmentation is a process that may lead to the loss of biodiversity, i.e., to species-depleted communities in fragments. However, the effects of the loss of species may well go beyond the change in community properties of the animal groups in question (e.g., community structure) but may affect various ecosystem properties as well as ecosystem functioning. Hence, a fragmented landscape represents an appropriate system to study general community-ecosystem dependencies. Trophic interactions and the trophic structure of animal communities play important roles in most of these processes, and its study can provide direct insights into ecosystem functioning. The present project aims at understanding how patterns of amphibian diversity in a fragmented landscape and local extinctions depend on functional components of diversity, food web properties, morphological traits, and phylogenetic distance. Furthermore, it will be analyzed if the composition and structure of the matrix (i.e., the non-forest habitat in which the fragments are embedded) are important drivers of changes in community and food web properties. This will be done by testing a set of hypotheses related to diversity pattern changes at the level of species, function, communities, and ecosystems. The proposed project will be conducted on anuran (frog) communities in the Ranomafana area of Eastern Madagascar, a montane rainforest ecosystem. This is a highly suitable model region with an unique amphibian diversity, where anuran systematics are largely settled and large molecular, phylogenetic, distributional, and bioacoustic databases on these organisms exist and will be incorporated in this study. A variety of established field methods will be combined with state-of-the-art laboratory analyses. Food web structure will be comparatively assessed using stable isotopes, a well-established technique that, however, has so far not been applied to amphibian communities in such a comprehensive approach.


Carnivore occupancy and density in the rainforest of Ranomafana, using camera trapping

Brian Gerber, Department of Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences, Virginia Tech, Virginia

I am working with Dr. Sarah Karpanty using camera-trapping systematic searches for scat and interviews with local people to quantify population state variables, diet, and movement patterns of Malagasy carnivores in the eastern rainforest. Using non-invasive remote-infrared cameras, I am able to estimate the population density of the fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox) and the Malagasy civet (Fossa fossana) across a gradient of disturbed forest, as well as occupancy estimation to evaluate landscape- and micro-level habitat selection of multiple rainforest carnivore species (C. ferox, F. fossana, Galidia elegans, Galidictis fasciata, Eupleres goudotii).


Rapid assessment of life history of the birds of Ranomafana National Park

PI: Dr. Patty G. Gowaty and Dr. Jean Claude R., Centre ValBio, Ranomafana; University of California and Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute; University of Georgia


Taxonomy of the spiders of Madagascar and their relation to web evolution — goblin spider of Madagascar/Web evolution: Census and study of some groups of arthropods: Arachnids (Oonopidae, Aracheidae, Zorocratidae, Phylexididae); and Coleoptera

Charles Griswold, Gustavo Horminga, A. Saucedo, Hanna Wood; N. Sharff, Daniela Andriamalala, California Academy of Sciences, University of Washington; University of Antananarivo, Madagascar


The effects of color vision and light levels on the foraging behavior of Eulemur rubriventer in Ranomafana National Park

Rachel Jacobs, Dr. Patricia Wright, Stony Brook University


Hibernation in rain forest mouse lemurs: effects of sex and habitat disturbance

PI: Caitlin Karanewsky, Ecology and Evolution, Stony Brook University

Research Assistant: Toky Hery Rakotoarinivo, Department of Paleontology and Biological Anthropology, University of Antananarivo, Madagascar

Identification of priority sites for Prolemur simus conservation through surveys and collection of knowledge on distribution of bamboo and Hapalemur from indigenous local people

Tony King, Anna Feistner, Jonah Ratsimbazafy, Andry Rajaoson, Maherisoa Ratolojanahary, Aspinall Foundation, Centre ValBio, Ranomafana, GERP Madagascar

Local knowledge surveys concerning carnivore ecology between protected forest and forest fragments — Ranomafana National Park villages and Ialatsara Forest Reserve

Mary Kotschwar, Department of Fisheries & Wildlife Sciences, Virginia Tech University;
Aina Ramahenina Joharintsoa, University of Antananarivo, Madagascar

I am studying predator-prey interactions in the southeastern rainforest of Madagascar. In 2008 my work focused on comparing the anti-predator behavior of Milne-Edwards’ sifakas (Propithecus edwardsi) living in the continuous primary forest of Ranomafana National Park and conspecifics living in the secondary forest fragments of Ialatsara Forest Station.  We are especially interested in how differences in predator community affect anti-predator behavior, as concurrent camera-trapping studies and raptor point counts indicated that the sifakas’ top predator, fossa, and a potential raptor predator, Hensts’ goshawk, were both missing from the fragments.  In 2009 we investigated carnivore distribution and behavior outside the forest through local knowledge surveys in communities located at varying distance (0 - 20 km) from the western border of Ranomafana National Park.  By documenting local peoples observations and experience with carnivore species, we hope to better understand which carnivores travel outside of the forest, how far outside of the forest they go, which habitat types they use, and their interactions with humans across the landscape. 


Do Prosimians possess a theory of mind?

PI: Christopher Krupenye, Connecticut College
Theory of mind describes one individual’s ability to understand that another individual can also think and exhibit desires and intentions different from his own. This is a cognitive ability that is essential for humans navigating social situations and it also seems to play a role in the social lives of primates. Researchers have shown that chimpanzees (Hare et. al 2000; Hare et. al 2001), and very likely other apes, as well as Rhesus macaques (Flombaum and Santos 2005), and likely other monkeys, do reason in some ways about the knowledge and intentions of others. Our intent is to adapt the simple, non-invasive methods utilized in the Flombaum and Santos paper to examine theory of mind in either a species of sifaka or mouse lemur, and to potentially provide the first evidence of theory of mind in any prosimian (lemurs, galagos, and lorises) species. Just as human researchers do not like to concede cognitive abilities to apes, and human and ape researchers do not like to do so to monkeys, few researchers concede advanced cognitive abilities to prosimians, the most “primitive” primates. For this reason the results of our study should be particularly interesting, whatever they may be. The question being examined in this study is: “Do prosimians possess any level of theory of mind?” and, through ecologically relevant methods, our intent is to provide evidence for or against the hypothesis that they do, in fact, possess some level of theory of mind. The goal of this experiment is not to discern how extensive that theory of mind is, but rather to provide the first evidence of any presence of it in lemurs.


Conservation of critically endangered populations of Greater Bamboo Lemur (Prolemur simus) in Mahasoa and Morafeno, southeastern Madagascar

PI: Eileen Larney

Research Assistants: Radoniaina Rafaliarison, University of Antananarivo, Madagascar; Noelikanto Ramamonjisoa and Harisoa Rakontonoely, The Normal School, Madagascar

Objectives during the 2009 field season included monitoring, research, training, reforestation, and training in legume gardens. This was the continuation of a long-term research and conservation presence in the area implemented in August 2008. To truly save the animals in this region we need to work closely with the local community. Thus we have adopted a multifaceted approach to conservation by (1) consistently reinforcing collaborative relationships with the local community (through meetings, training, and employment opportunities); (2) continuing to follow the group of Prolemur simus to gain data on ranging, behavior, and ecology from behavioral observations, as well as collecting fecal samples to ascertain the genetic viability of this metapopulation; (3) surveying the faunal and floral biodiversity in the area since we know that while P. simus is our flagship species, habitat restoration will benefit a multitude of fauna in the area, some of which remain to be discovered; (4) determining habitat characteristics and structure (including monitoring anthropogenic disturbance) by using GPS and conducting botanical transects (this approach assists us in replicating the original forest structure for this region in our restoration efforts); (5) continuing and reinforcing the reforestation training; and (6) providing alternative and more sustainable agricultural techniques in the way of improved irrigation, and providing supplies and training for vegetable gardens.


Subfossil mammals from the Christmas River site, south central Madagascar

PI: Dr. Kathleen M. Muldoon

Co-PI: Dr. Patricia C. Wright, Institute for the Conservation of Tropical Environments (ICTE),
Stony Brook University

Research Assistant: Angelin Gilbert

Recent exploration on the south-central plateau of Madagascar resulted in the discovery of a significant new paleontological site. The Christmas River site is the first new subfossil locality to be discovered in over 75 years, and is the only subfossil locality known from Madagascar’s south-central plateau. All fauna recovered from this locality are therefore first known regional occurrences. The material from Christmas River thus provides a remarkable research opportunity for deciphering ecological changes that have taken place in south-central Madagascar during the Holocene. The goal of this research is to catalog (including measurement, photographs) all subfossil bones collected from the Christmas River site with respect to species identification and Minimal Number of Individuals (MNI). Subfossils collected from the Christmas River site are kept at the Centre ValBio (Ranomafana National Park, Madagascar) for preparation, sorting, and identification. At the Centre ValBio, taxonomic identification of collected osteological material will be made in reference to comparative extant skeletal key. Selected faunal samples will be exported to submit them for radioisotopic dating to substantiate and expand on previously obtained dates. Because Christmas River is the only subfossil locality known from the south-central plateau, all fauna recovered represent new occurrences that add important insights into biogeographic patterns for living and extinct taxa. Information from the Christmas River site will contribute to regional interpretations of lemur community ecology over time, providing important insights into prehistoric changes in community composition and structure.

Empowering communities to protect biodiversity: Conservation incentives and monitoring in Madagascar Alantsika Project

Pascal Rabeson, Conservation International, World Wildlife Fund (WWF), ASOS
Centre ValBio, Ranomafana, CI Antananarivo; WWF Vondrozo; ASOS, Madagascar

Ecology and behavior of tadpoles and amphibians in Ranomafana National Park: Study of behavior and recording of activity rhythm of different species by using automatic detection materials

Roger Daniel Randrianiaina; Hiobiarilanto Rasolonjatovo, DBA University of Antananarivo, Madagascar

Long-term monitoring studies on breeding success and nest-site management of the pitta-like ground roller, Atelornis pittoides at Talatakely forest, Ranomafana National Park

Jean Claude Razafimahaimodison
Centre ValBio Research Technicians, Centre ValBio, Ranomafana, Madagascar


Functional differences within a guild of lemur species: Effects on host-plant dynamics

PI: Onja H. Razafindratsima, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Rice University, Texas
The majority of primates are thought to be effective seed dispersers of tropical forests and play an important role in maintaining the ecosystem’s health. Most primate seed dispersal studies have relied on qualitative data and the assumption that all frugivore plant interactions are equally important. Understanding quantitative effects of primate species on forest restoration and regeneration requires a deeper assessment of their mutualistic interaction with their host plants. The proposed research aims to do this by studying the differential effects of three lemur species on the spatial distribution and recruitment of two shared host plants species in Ranomafana, Madagascar. The distribution of seeds will be determined by parameterizing a spatially explicit, individual-based model of seed dispersal, which will be used to predict spatial patterns and densities of seed dispersed by different species and to assess the importance of different lemur disperser traits. To estimate the impacts of lemurs on plant recruitment, I will combine dispersal observations and cage experiments in different microsites to explore post-dispersal effects of microsite on germination and seed predation. Using this data I will simulate the recruitment dynamics of plant populations over time following stage-microhabitat classes.

Effects of nocturnal light environments on the evolution of nocturnal lemur color vision
Carrie C. Veilleux, Department of Anthropology, University of Texas at Austin
I am a primate sensory ecologist interested in the relationship between the environment and primate visual systems to understand and evaluate scenarios of primate and human evolution. My current PhD research explores how habitat differences in nocturnal light environments have influenced the evolution of nocturnal lemur color vision. While scientists have recently discovered nocturnal color vision in several nocturnal animals, there has been little work exploring what colors of light are available by night in different forest habitats. Here in Ranomafana National Park with the help of ValBio technicians, I am collecting data on the color and intensity of nocturnal light, as well as the color and intensity of daylight and data on forest structure and foliage density. I will compare these results with similar data collected at Kirindy Mitea National Park, a succulent woodland habitat in western Madagascar. By increasing our knowledge of nocturnal light environments, we can better understand the visual ecology of nocturnal animals, such as lemurs, chameleons, and hawkmoths.

Rakotosolofo, Department of Paleontology and Biological Anthropology, University of Antananarivo, Madagascar

Rakotosolofo is working with Carrie studying anthropogenic effects on diurnal light environments by exploring how light environments vary according to distance from the road. This project will have important implications for understanding how humans impact the visual ecology of lemurs and other animals.

Assassin spiders of Madagascar: Census and study of some groups of Arthropods: Arachnids (Oonopidae, Aracheidae, Zorocratidae, Phylexididae); and Coleoptera

Hannah Wood, Nicolas Sharff, California Academy of Sciences; University of Washington


Studies of demography, behavior, genetics, reproduction, parasites, odor, dental morphology, and ecology of lemurs of Ranomafana National Park with a particular long-term focus on Propithecus edwardsi population monitoring

PI: Dr. Patricia C. Wright, ICTE/ Department of Anthropology, Stony Brook University
Participants: Dr. Stacey T. Tecot, Ecology and Evolution, Stony Brook University; Radonirina Rakotoniaina and Andrilalao Raminosoa Rakotonavalona, University of Antananarivo, Madagascar


Monitoring methods of amphibians of Madagascar: Importance of bioacoustics and tadpoles of larval amphibian communities in Ranomafana National Park

Miguel Vences, W. Katharina, Liliane Raharivololona, HT Rasolonjatovo Serge Herilala Ndriantsoa; Technical University, Braunschweig, Germany; Department of Animal Biology, University of Antananarivo, Madagascar


Population dynamics and reproductive biology of microcebus in Ranomafana National Park

PI: Sarah Zohdy, Institute of Biotechnology, University of Helsinki, Finland
My PhD research focuses on senescence in wild primates. In a time when humans are living longer than ever and neurodegenerative diseases are becoming more frequent, it is important to understand the evolutionary impetus of aging. In recent studies mouse lemurs have been found to have symptoms of Alzheimer’s, making them the only other primate (aside from humans) to propagate the disease. This, however, has only been studied in captivity. The goal of my research is to complement these captive studies with wild aging data on Microcebus rufus, the brown mouse lemur, with aims of better understanding aging in a natural context. More specifically, I have used a combination of capture-recapture data (e.g., microchip identification, morphometrics, body mass) and annual dental molds to estimate ages of wild individuals. With this information we hope to gain information on the natural aging process in M. rufus through morphometrics, parasite analysis, hormone analyses, and genetic studies. Ultimate goals are to gain perspective on the aging process as a whole and eventually develop an animal model for senescence in wild primate populations.

Toky Hery Rakotoarinivo, Department of Paleontology and Biological Anthropology, University of Antananarivo, Madagascar
Toky is working towards his DEA in collaboration with Sarah Zohdy’s project, studying Microcebus food availability using botanical plots in two habitats with different levels of disturbance. He is then exploring trapping success compared to varying levels of disturbance. In addition, he is comparing the quality and abundance of primary mouse lemur food resources (from botanical plots) to fluctuations in body mass and composition of fecal material (in the laboratory).

Jessica Carag
Jessica is working with Sarah Zohdy’s project assisting in taking dental molds, preparing fecal samples for hormone analysis (to be conducted at University of Wisconsin), as well as examining parasite intensities in wild mouse lemurs. These parasite data will be used to assess immunosenescence in wild aged lemurs. Parasite data will also be compared to androgen hormone data to test if high levels of testosterone are costly and impair the immune system (immunocompetence handicap hypothesis) in wild mouse lemur populations within Ranomafana National Park.

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