July 6, 2010

Novel Research Methods May Help Protect Species

by Heather Falconer

Creativity plays a highly important role in scientific research. Often, the more complex the question, the more creative the approach. This is especially true for those studying elusive or endangered species, as researchers must design projects that will bring them close to their often hard to find subject.

In a study just released in the journal Nature, researchers working in Columbia, South America, created a novel method for identifying the population of cotton-top tamarin, an animal popular in the exotic pet trade. As the paper explains, two teams of four researchers walked parallel in strip transects through the historic distribution area of the cotton-top tamarin. That in itself isn’t particularly unique. What was unique, though, was that the third member in each party carried a Bose Acoustic Wave Music System II that played the long calls of adult cotton-top tamarins living captive at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. (The fourth person in each group walked behind and documented the number, demographics and location of the animals responding.)

Read the full research article here.

The project demonstrates how important it is to know your research subject when designing methods. The approach relies heavily on the understanding that tamarins are social creatures and will come toward the call of new individuals, rather than run away. Despite documented research confirming this behavior, the research team tried their technique first on known populations of tamarin living in their long-term study site. Through this trial they confirmed that the animals would not only respond vocally to the playback, but would come close enough that they could be seen and documented.

The results of this project showed that the population of cotton-top tamarins in the Columbian forests have declined significantly since the 1960s — from the tens of thousands to the thousands. As a result, they have been reclassified as “Critically Endangered” and placed on the “World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates” list.  With the help of the team’s research, Columbian officials are making the conservation of forest a priority in protecting this species — though deforestation and urban development continue to be a massive threat.

Image copyright Hogle Zoo, 2010.

Heather Falconer

Written by

Heather Falconer holds undergraduate degrees in Graphic Arts and Environmental Science, as well as an MFA in Writing and an MLitt in Literature. She is currently completing her PhD in Rhetoric and Composition, with an emphasis on rhetoric in/and/of science. Heather has worked internationally in academic publishing as both an author and editor, and has taught a wide range of topics – from research writing to marine biology – in the public and private educational sectors.

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