Training Program: Conservation Technology and Primate Ecology

Join Our Field Team!

Quick Facts

Social groups function by sticking together, so one of their most basic functions is to make collective decisions about where to go and how to get there. This is an area that combines two highly active fields of research: movement ecology and social behavior. By stitching them together, we hope to understand how social dynamics influence (and are influenced by) group movement.

Part I: Behavioral Observation

Traditionally, primatologists have studied movement ecology by following primate groups and directly observing their behavior. For small primates like tamarins, this is still the main way we get information on movement. It’s challenging work due to their small size and highly arboreal habits, but it’s the only way to get data on feeding, social behavior, predation, and other ecologically and evolutionarily significant events.

Our follows begin early in the morning, before the monkeys wake up. Using radiotelemetry, we locate a group’s sleep tree, then follow them throughout the day. Some days we break for lunch and then head out again in the afternoon; other days we take lunch with us and stay with the animals from dawn until dusk. We spend most of our time off trail, moving through thick vegetation and over any hills and ravines the monkeys might take us through. It’s probably the most intimate encounter you can have with the rainforest!

Part II: GPS Tracking

In the past, we’ve collected spatial information from handheld GPS trackers, which give us a good sense for the group’s overall space use (home range size, distance traveled per day, etc.), but ultimately a handheld GPS unit tells you where the observer has gone, not where the animals have gone. Nevertheless, this has been the only way to get GPS data about these very small monkeys – until now.

Starting in 2020, we’re adding a GPS tracking protocol to our observation program. We’ve designed a tiny tracking device that can fit on a tamarin, and this year we plan to put it into operation. In combination with the behavioral data collection, the trackers will give us unprecedented detail on movement patterns, allowing us to track space use not only at the group level, but also at the individual level. We’ll be able to observe how individual movements contribute to the overall movement of the group.

In combination with high-resolution remote sensing data, the GPS tracks will also tell us about the tamarins’ microhabitat selection. We can now begin to ask questions about why tamarins are found in certain forest patches but not others, as well as what kinds of vegetation structure they prefer for high-value activities like sleeping and foraging. 

For students, this means a chance to get first-hand experience with emerging technologies for wildlife observation and management. Students will have the opportunity to learn about our original hardware and the software that drives it. For those students interested in the science side of wildlife observation, there will also be opportunities to get involved in data analysis and hypothesis testing at the end of the season.

Part III: Other Field Technologies

In addition to our newly developed GPS trackers and their research applications, participants will also be able to assist with the implementation of our NatureChip – an all-in-one camera trap, RFID tag reader, and weigh scale.  As an RA you will learn how the system works from the inside out, and you will deploy it for testing on several of our longstanding primate focal groups. The data you collect will be contrasted with the data collected by the mark-recapture team, and your participation will be critical in optimizing field placement/positioning, data acquisition, and protection from the elements.

Students in this program may also assist with the development and deployment of a local networking system for remotely accessing weather and animal data. Our basestation and associated devices are programmed to turn on for a short period of time each day to search for connections, and when found, remotely download any data. When this system is complete, the base station will be programed to upload the data to the web through the WIFI system. Imagine sitting in a cafe or at home and logging onto a website to find out how an animal’s weight fluctuates over the year. Given enough data, we might even detect major life events such as pregnancies and births, which will give us better estimates of female reproductive success than even before.

If you join this program, you will get experience in a wide variety of tasks that are applicable to many different fields, including but not limited to primatology. Research assistants who complete this program will be able to:

  • Identify primate species by sight and sound
  • Use telemetry devices, GPS devices, and Animal Observer software
  • Safely and efficiently move through dense rainforest vegetation
  • Navigate without trails
  •  Track primates by sight, sound, and telemetry
  • Collect and analyze behavioral data
  • Maintain a field laboratory
  • Organize and project spatial data in QGIS and Garmin BaseCamp
  • (Optional): write analytic software in R
  • (Optional): write operational software in ArduinoIDE/Java
  • (Optional): analyze spatial data in QGIS

We are currently recruiting participants with the following requirements.  If you are uncertain if you are eligible, contact us to confirm.

  • Participants must be at least 18 years of age by the time the training program begins. There is no upper limit.
  • Participants must demonstrate a grounding or strong interest in zoology, biology, anthropology, or conservation technology
  • Previous field experience is not required
  • Participants must justify why this program is important to them, and what they hope to gain from it
  • Participants must provide two references who can substantiate the participant’s experience and skills
  • Participants must be in good physical condition, with the capability to walk 4 miles a day
  • Participants will not be discriminated against for medical conditions they might have if we determine that being on this project will not pose an immediate risk to their health
  • Participants must sign waivers of liability for this project and for the field station before their participation in the project is finalized
  • Participants must be willing to maintain long hours in the field, and return to complete data entry in the evenings
  • Participants can expect flexible schedules that are dependent on the weather.
  • Participants must exhibit a willingness to adjust their schedule to primate daily activity patterns. This can require waking up early, sometimes by 4 or 5 am, and going to bed early, 8 or 9 pm.

This project began in 2009, and the primary investigators working on it currently are Gustav Steinhardt, Mrinalini Watsa, and Gideon Erkenswick. Field managers include Daniel Nienhuis and Ishaan Raghunandan. 

Frequently Asked Questions

There are pretty firm minimum requirements for each program (3- to 6-week commitments). These are firm because each research assistant must be trained, during which time the data they collect cannot be relied upon entirely. Anything less than the minimum time is deemed insufficient for the research assistant to contribute real data to the project. However, for most programs, you are welcome to apply for stays that are longer than the minimum period – in fact, we really do recommend and love it when you do!

You absolutely can apply to both a field course and an RAship program if the dates will line up! In fact, if you are accepted into the research assistantship, you can attend a field course for a lower fee (typically a $400 discount)

In order to train our research teams, it is necessary that everyone arrives on specific start dates. However, for some programs we are able to provide multiple start dates in order to accommodate the varying schedules of our research assistants. Note: this is not offered for all of our programs, so please pay attention to the specific start times for each program.  If you REALLY cannot make a particular start date, don’t abandon hope – email us and we can do our best to accommodate you!

Our courses have fewer enrollment requirements, and we strongly encourage anyone to apply. The research assistantships are more competitive, and there are fewer positions available.

No, you do not need previous research experience. These are training programs designed for participants at all levels. It can be hard to acquire field experience, so we balance our teams with veteran researchers and those new to the world of field research. We seek bright and enthusiastic candidates with the right temperament to work in this challenging environment. 

The cost to participate includes lodging and all meals at the field station, transportation between Puerto Maldonado and the field station, specialized training for candidates accepted into the program, and the provision of equipment and supplies necessary to conduct this research.

A large majority of the fees paid to our training programs cover lodging fees charged by the host field station. Importantly, at the Los Amigos Biological Station lodging fees not only support the cost of running and maintaining a remote field site, but contribute to the larger mission of their parent NGO (Association for the Conservation of the Amazon Basin) to protect conservation areas, monitor deforestation, maintain wildlife corridors, and more.

We are now able to offer a peer-to-peer fundraising program for research assistants. Once accepted, you would be able to create a shareable profile on our platform. This is a team-based initiative, so half of your raised funds will go toward your own program fees, while the other half will go into pool to be split evenly among all program participants who had at least 5 donors. More details will be available during (and after) your interview. If you require help with the cost of the program, there are other options that you might pursue as well. You could start by contacting the Office of Undergraduate Research of your school, or request professional development support from your employer. Here you can explore what is available through your college/place-of-work, as well as through external funding sources. Many universities have SURF (Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship) programs, which may provide stipends for students to pursue independent research. Please note that if you do find any kind of research-related funding — as many RAs have in the past — it will need to be applied for in conjunction with us, on research projects that we approve. In this case, one of our principal investigators will consult with you about developing a project that is feasible.

Some candidates may have an opportunity to win a grant that will fund their research assistantship site fees and travel. However, the grant requires them to submit a research proposal. If this is your situation, we may be able to work with you on a proposal. Contact us at info(at) and we can help you structure one. We cannot accommodate completely independent projects, but we can assist you with finding a subset of our samples or data that has not yet been full used, which you could develop further with supervision.

Yes, you can. We do not give co-authorship for collecting data alone, but we offer interested students the opportunity to work on data analyses after the summer research program, that could lead to co-authorship in the future. Many of our former field team members have gone on to become research collaborators.

Once you make your payment towards the program, we will go ahead and book your stay at the field station, which requires us to pay in advance and provides no refunds. We also block your spot and reject other applicants based on your being on the team; thus cancellations can affect team recruitment quite strongly. Nevertheless, we do recognize that circumstances sometimes demand cancellations – so we do the best that we can, given the restrictions we are under.

Here is our cancellation policy: 

  • 45 days before your start date: 45% refunded
  • Less than 45 days from your start date: no refund is possible
If you have extenuating circumstances, or applied closer than 45 days to your start date, please contact us to confirm your specific cancellation policy.

1. Apply online here. You will need a CV/resume and two references.

2. Once we hear from your references, we will schedule an interview with the principal investigator of your desired project

3. If accepted, you will be notified within 1 week

4. Upon acceptance, gain student access to online training modules to get prepared before you arrive.

5. Turn in medical info, vaccination record, liability waivers, etc.

6. See you in the field!

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