News and stories from our outreach events as well as journal entries from Katie's fieldwork seasons.

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Lab Update

Research is on-schedule! I have completed almost all laboratory work for this project. Once I have all the data back I can start analyzing and writing. Of course, I have been analyzing some of the data over the past few months already, and there have been several writing projects on my plate as well. I currently have two manuscripts and one book chapter in review.

With regard to the lab work, it's amazing how many samples we collected while in Palenque. This dataset is truly enormous. I've included a picture from one step of one analysis to provide an idea of how much processing all of these samples required. It would be interesting to know if I've clocked as many hours in the laboratory as I did in the field in Palenque. Probably not, but I have spent enough hours bent over a lab bench that it's nice to be approaching a temporary stopping point (as I finish my dissertation and move on to the next project). Needless to say, there should be some interesting papers as a result of all of this work.


Lab Update

To date, I have extracted DNA from all of the samples I collected in the field in Palenque National Park and surrounding areas. Thanks to the help of two assistants, Jill and Andrew, this part of the lab work went very quickly. Now, I am continuing analyses using the DNA and hope to have preliminary results soon! (I presented some preliminary data comparing the gut bacteria of howler groups living in forest fragments to those living in the continuous forest of Palenque National Park at the American Society of Primatologists annual meetings in Austin, TX in September.) Stay tuned for publications!


Updates - Round 3 Weeks 9 & 10

Field data collection is complete! Our last day of field work was June 25, and now we are in the final stages of organizing samples for shipment and packing everything up in our cabana. Last weekend I was unable to write an update because we were traveling in San Cristobal de las Casas and Tuxtla Gutierrez. I went to Tuxtla to get my export permit for the last batch of fecal samples. All went smoothly except that the system wouldn't print the permit so I had to go back a second day to pick it up. I was also able to verify my plant identifications at the herbarium at EcoSur, a university in San Cristobal. It was a busy couple of days, but I left feeling like I got a lot done.

The last two weeks in the field were pretty routine. We got our samples without a problem...although there were a few days when the monkeys made themselves difficult to observe. Leaving the Balam group for the last time and then the Motiepa group was a little hard. We are both tired from all the hard work we have been doing, but the forest is so beautiful here, and of course, we enjoy being around the monkeys. We'll be so busy with last-minute errands here that I don't think the reality of the situation will hit me until I'm already gone. Even so, I'm trying to enjoy my last few days in Palenque and plan on taking one more walk through the forest before I leave.

Updates will probably be less regular once I start the labwork in Champaign. Labwork doesn't have exciting surprises like snakes. However, I'm confident that I will find some interesting patterns in my data. I will be sure to update as much as I can and to notify when anything gets published.


Updates - Round 3 Week 8

Week 9 flew by. The nightly rains have continued so the heat remains tolerable. However, the behavior of the Motiepa group this week matched that of the Balam group last week. There were not as many intergroup encounters, but the Motiepa group traveled almost the entire length of its territory almost every day. The Motiepa group has a much larger territory than the Balam group and is located on a long incline. Although the distances we traveled each time they moved were still less than a kilometer, the hill made the journey seem hotter and longer. In addition to that, most of the traveling the monkeys did was along the small river that runs through their territory. The river is beautiful and full of cascading waterfalls (due to the inclined terrain), but following the monkeys back and forth across it as they moved along made for some wet afternoons.

Other than the monkeys, we ran into several agoutis and a coral snake this week. The monkeys also spent a couple days in a fruiting fig tree overhanging the largest waterfall in their territory, and we were able to spot a huge variety of birds, including mot-mots and toucans.


Updates - Round 3 Week 7

It is starting to rain again, which has cooled things off significantly. Luckily, most of the rain comes at night though, so we are able to work comfortably in the field still. Cooler weather means the monkeys are more active. It’s a nice change, but this week Balam was very active and tended go into the middle of tall trees with dense leaves almost every day. There was also at least one howling encounter with another group every day. Data collection was a challenge.

 On top of that, the Balam males were very difficult to tell apart. Although they have some distinguishing characteristics, they are subtle and hard to see if the monkeys are moving quickly or if the light is wrong. Usually we use botflies to tell them apart more easily. Botflies are flies whose larvae grow under the skin of a mammalian host, in this case, the monkeys. When a monkey has a botfly, it develops a very visible lump wherever the botfly is—face, neck, chest, back, etc. Because different individuals have botflies in different places, this makes it easy for us to quickly identify the monkeys once we know where each one has a botfly. However, the botflies only last for about a month, after which the fly emerges and the lump disappears; we are constantly on the lookout for new ones. One of the Balam males has had a botfly on his right collarbone for the past three weeks, but this week it was almost gone. The other male has no botflies. While this is great for the monkeys, it made it very difficult for us to quickly distinguish the males from one another. We were able to do it using the faded botfly, a faint scar, and facial characteristics, but several times we had to follow our focal individual around after the focal had ended to verify the identity. Luckily, the females and juveniles are easy to tell apart using permanent characteristics so our frustration was limited.

Aside from the monkeys, we saw a coati this week. This is the first time I've seen this raccoon-like animal in Palenque National Park! We also saw an encounter between a small snake and a big tarantula. I didn't get close enough to see what the end result was, but when I looked at the pictures I took, it looks like the snake is belly-up.

The end result of snake v. tarantula.

 Teresa and Luz resting together.