A Young Grad Student’s Project…

Three weeks into graduate school and I’d have to say that it’s been an overwhelming and exciting time thus far. The coursework is intense, the lectures intriguing, and it’s certainly been interesting getting to know the diverse array of people who populate the Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior department. Accomplishment of the week, however, would have to be rounding up some IT guys to fix the lab printer so that I can finally make copies of all the papers I need to be reading! Score.

Even though I’ve just begun at UMN, I had been developing potential research project to do in the Lion Lab over the last several months. While Ali focuses on interactions between different predator species, I will be diving into the interspecies interactions that compose the Serengeti’s predator-prey dynamics. Specifically, I want to look into how physical predation along with the fear of potential predation influence how and where herbivores move throughout the day. Snapshot Serengeti is essential to my research because the camera traps are collecting data on where herbivores are congregating 24/7. Most other studies have been limited to looking at large-scale distributions during the day, whereas we can pick apart fine-scale distribution patterns even during the hours of darkness.

Now the Serengeti and the creatures in it are not static, but move around and prioritize different activities throughout the day. Herbivores are active during the day (diurnal), whereas the major savanna predators are most active in the twilights (crepuscular) and evenings (nocturnal). To avoid predators and maximize resource intake, herbivores could be strategizing about what they do and when they do it. I want to look at where the prey herbivores are during different times of the day and see if and how this changes throughout the 24-hour cycle in. If it does, we can then move into examining different hypotheses and motivating factors for these particular movement patterns.

One thing I would like to do is use lion behavioral data from the Serengeti Lion Project to construct a map of predator “attack risk” – a diagram showing the areas which include landscape features that are known to increase predator attack success. Another kind of map I can construct is one highlighting areas of prime resources based off of information on different herbivore species’ primary diets. This would reveal where herbivores should be going if they were focused solely on resource acquisition. The camera traps provide yet another layer by showing us where the herbivores ARE actually spending their time, and we can compare this (actual) distribution to those predicted by the two mentioned models.

Studies like this would not be possible without the novel type of information being generated by the camera traps. Being able to pull information from the pictures and add in additional data from the lion behavior projects, I have a good chance of being able to reveal something interesting about the dynamic interactions being hashed out in the Serengeti.

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