Why should science matter to our presidential candidates? As you’ll see in the accompanying video,…
Monkey business, it's not.
NIU anthropology professor Mitch Irwin recently won a $19,500 National Geographic Society research grant to support a year-long nutritional profile of arguably some of the cutest critters on the planet—Madagascar's famous lemurs.
Isolated from other land masses for tens of millions of years, Madagascar, an island country off the southeastern coast of Africa, is well-known for its spectacular varieties of lemurs, which are found nowhere else.
“An overarching goal of ecology is to relate food characteristics to the abundance of animals and the anatomical and behavioral adaptations those animals evolved to exploit them,” Irwin said. “For wild species, we rarely have the data—actual nutrient intakes—needed to understand the evolutionary pressures that foods impose.”
Irwin said the dearth of data is an acute problem among primates who typically have diverse diets, and the research will help improve the understanding of how environments limit populations. In addition, the information will aid conservation efforts and contribute to understanding the lemurs’ unique behavioral characteristics.
For nearly two decades, Irwin has been conducting research in Madagascar. Along with his wife, NIU biological sciences professor Karen Samonds, Irwin spearheaded the creation of Sadabe, a non-governmental organization based in Tsinjoarivo, Madagascar. The NGO aims to develop innovative ways to promote environmental health and the healthy coexistence of humans and wildlife in the region.
Next fall, Irwin will be in New York at one of the world’s top nutrition labs to analyze plant samples collected so far. The combination of field data and lab analyses will most likely result in Irwin authoring several articles and collaborating with other researchers’ writing projects.
In turn, the research grant will benefit Huskie students in several ways.
“This grant will help develop my field site in Madagascar so that current and future graduate students will be able to run their own independent projects on the same lemur groups,” Irwin said. “I also regularly collaborate with graduate students, either by having extra data on hand to add to the data they collect, or by working with them on additional projects.”
Funding from an NIU Research and Artistry Grant also will contribute to the development of lemur nutritional profiles.