Sunday, March 25, 2012

Feeding Ecology

     Understanding diet is an essential part of understanding primates. Whether they are eating leaves, fruit, bark, ingesting medicinal plants, or just using twigs as a toothbrush, knowledge of plant use is essential. As someone who is greatly interested in diet and nutrition, I was really excited for the plant course that Yuvy and Kim put together for us today.             
         We headed into the field late (eight o’clock in the morning is quite late for field work) with a local botanist to learn about the fruits, flowers, and leaves we had seen the monkeys feeding on. Our local guide, Juan Carlos Catari, stated before he began that his English was very bad, yet later this same day he used the word “polymorphic” correctly, so clearly his English was excellent. Very little had to be translated.
           The course started with a bit an overview. Can you explain the difference between a tree and a shrub? Ashley and I couldn’t quite do it succinctly either. The first thing I learned that day is that a tree has a primary trunk and a shrub has multiple trunks. It’s a simple enough concept, but one I honestly didn’t know. We went over some tropical ecology such as how epiphytes get nutrients, and the different types forms of life; tree, shrub, and crawler and where they live; terrestrial or aquatic.
            After an overview, we showed Juan Carlos the items the monkeys had been feeding on. We trekked through the forest to find the plants we’d been keeping track of these past few weeks, and we clipped multiple branches to take back with us. It wasn’t always easy. At one point I was stretching myself as long as I could as I perched precariously on Ashley’s back to get a sample from a ficus tree. We learned how to take samples from the plants, how to identify certain plant families, and how to prepare and dry out plant samples properly.
            Our course was only four hours long, and clearly we only touched on very little of tropical plant ecology. It was definitely worth giving up a day off for a day of studying plants. Juan Carlos was very knowledgeable, a good teacher, and, most importantly, he had a sense of humor. Juan was also very adept at climbing and scurrying up trees. I felt tired just watching him.
            I think future titi monkey research assistants can look forward to learning about the forest the titis inhabit, as the day was generally seen as a success. It might have to become a staple of the project.

 Flowers consumed by G5

Ripe (yellow) and unripe (green) fruits consumed by G2

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