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The Owl Monkey Project: Student Research

The Fundación collaborated with the Owl Monkey Project to host a two week field course on Biological Clocks and Rhythyms. Five students from the University of Pennsylvania, traveled to Buenos Aires and Formosa, where together with ten international students, they participated in a 2-week multidisciplinary course offered by Diego Golombek, Horacion de la Iglesia and Eduardo Fernandez-Duque.

Biological Clocks Field Course, Summer 2011

The following are summaries of student research experiences from June-August 2011

Nicholas Lahens (, Ph.D. student, UPenn School of Medicine

This summer I attended the Clocks Summer Program in Argentina. I am a graduate student who is currently studying circadian rhythms, so this course offered me an excellent chance to review the earlier, foundational literature in the field, and gain experience with papers outside my direct area of focus. Furthermore, the international setting for the course afforded me the incredible opportunity to study with local scientists and scholars. I learned about the challenges associated with the scientific experience in a different country, which in turn has broadened my own understanding of the research field. After the course, I briefly participated in the field research being conducted in Formosa. Since I only have experience in a controlled laboratory setting, it was exciting to see an entirely new facet of research. Unlike traditional genetic research, the field science being conducted in Formosa is more about understanding biology through observation, rather than manipulation. As a whole, this course served to solidify my understanding of the origins of the circadian field. Additionally, my experiences in the field, with a different culture, and with other scientists, have served to enrich my understanding of where my own research fits into the greater scientific community beyond Penn.

Margaret Corley (, 2nd Year Ph.D. student, UPenn Anthropology, SAS

This summer in Formosa I gathered data on social interactions in four collared groups of owl monkeys (Aotus azarai), with the goal of using this data to examine how changes in the relationship between parents and offspring might influence dispersal. I did so by observing groups that contained pre-dispersing juveniles or subadults and collecting twenty-minute focal samples, during which the focal individual’s behavioral state was recorded every two minutes and its distance from other group members was recorded every four minutes. I also collected fecal samples from two females – one subadult that remained in a group and one solitary subadult. These samples were collected every 2-3 days, to capture any potential hormone cycling that might be taking place in subadult individuals. My time in Formosa this summer has allowed me to gain experience with the techniques necessary for collecting both focal data and fecal samples, and become familiar with the field site and the project’s protocols. It has also provided a foundation for me to develop a high-quality dissertation proposal and conduct future research in Formosa as a graduate student at Penn.

Kelsi Schoenrock (, UPenn ’12, BBB major, SAS

This summer I studied the Aotus azarai population in the Province of Formosa, northern Argentina.  I focused on determining testosterone levels in adult male Aotus azarai.  My study consisted of five adult male Aotus azarai who inhabited the forests of Guaycolec Ranch in the Province of Formosa, Argentina. The subjects were located using telemetry in transected regions of the forest. 70 fecal samples were collected over a seven-week period from the beginning of July through the middle of August. Fecal samples were collected weekly for each male monkey, once during the morning bout of activity and once during the evening bout of activity, for a total of 2 samples per male per week.

My summer in Argentina was unforgettable.  I was fortunate to be able to follow the monkeys around the forest from dawn to sunset.  Not only did I collect fecal samples for my project, but I also performed focal behavioral samples, and helped in the Howler Monkey Census project.  In my classes such as animal behavior and animal cognition, I read multiple scholarly articles describing field research.  I am a Biological Basis of Behavior major; therefore I have studied the chemical basis of many behaviors.  However, this summer I was able to observe behaviors and hopefully in the future I will learn about associated chemical processes.  I took a field study course, in which we studied primates in captivity, and this past semester I worked in the lab examining estrogen in the wild owl monkey population. This summer gave me the opportunity to integrate my classroom studies, lab work, and field research to understand the complete process of research.  I plan to complete my senior’s honors thesis this year based on the data I collected this summer.

Jacquelyn Kemmer (, UPenn’14, undeclared, SAS

My foremost reason for spending time from June to August of 2011 in Formosa, Argentina was to gain invaluable experience pertaining to field research. This goal was undoubtedly realized, and even expanded upon after I began conducting my own small research project with the Aotus azarai azarai. The goal of this project was to examine if the activity patterns of solitary and group living individuals differ by measuring the length and frequency of activity and inactivity bouts, as well as their synchronicity. This required simultaneous, daily follows of two solitary monkeys and one to three (out of four total) social groups. All onsets and offsets of activity were recorded (requiring greater than five minutes of activity or inactivity to be recorded) throughout the day. Already, preliminary analyses indicate that the activity of solitary monkeys does differ from that of groups, with a tendency towards fewer activity bouts throughout the day. This was measured in number of activity onsets, including times in which individuals were encountered while active. I will spend the upcoming semester doing an in-depth analysis of the data I collected over the summer, and hopefully expand upon it via information stored in an extensive database. In order to explore any behavioral differences that may exist, I will look at the synchronicity of activity between the solitary and group individuals. Additionally, I will examine the territorial ranging data of the solitary monkeys (collected every 20 minutes during follows) and compare it to the pre-established ranges of the groups. This may reveal a pattern of interaction between the two social contexts. This summer has allowed me to experience the mental and physical challenges that accompany field research, while gaining personal perspective as well as a love of fieldwork along the way.

Michael Drake, (, UPenn ’12, Biology, SAS

I spent the summer living and working in the humid Chaco of Northern Argentina.  There, I worked with the Owl Monkey Project to carry out a project surveying the population density of the local black and golden howler monkey population.  Population surveys on this same group of monkeys had been carried out 10 and 20 years ago and I modeled my project after these prior studies in order to obtain results that could be compared reliably.  To carry out this survey, I created linear transects in three separate parts of the forest.  I walked each transect multiple times at different time periods throughout the day and recorded the number of monkeys I encountered.  Averaging my sighting encounters, I now have an estimate of the number of monkeys in a given area, which I will use to examine the howler monkey’s population changes over the past thirty years.

In my project, I was able to practice many of the practical field skills that will be essential to my future as an Ecologist.  I became well versed in the mathematics of population modeling, learned to use telemetry equipment, and witnessed the darting of an animal, all important scientific skills that are hard to learn on campus.  Just as importantly, I also learned how to clear trails with a machete, navigate jungle rivers in a canoe and survive swarms of mosquitoes thick enough to blot out the sun.  These skills and experiences, while not exactly scientific, are immensely important to the process of field science and their importance is hard to comprehend without a trip into the jungle!  It is impossible to quantify just how much I learned this summer.  I can only say that now I know what it means to be a field scientist and that I feel ready to pursue a career in research.  I am excited to go to graduate school and I cannot wait to see where my research takes me next.  And on top of all of this, I learned Spanish!