Monitoring Biodiversity in the Amazon
Tracking tamarins can be tricky. They are small and fast, and you have to earn their trust while trying to distinguish each near-identical animal from the next. To achieve this, we use an annual mark-recapture program, behavioral observations, tracking technology, and genetics.
By The Numbers
Who are the Tamarins?
Tamarins are primates (family, Callitrichidae) known for their miniature stature and complex, female-dominant social systems.
They have hirsute faces and are very hard to distinguish from each other. No sexual dichromatism is present in the species’ pelage.
They produce twin offspring over 90% of the time. These dizygotic or fraternal twins are more closely related on average due to genetic chimerism
Meet the Tamarins at EBLA
Emperor tamarins (Saguinus imperator), known for their fantastic mustaches, are also fierce creatures, despite their size.
Saddleback tamarins (Leontocebus weddelli) are milder in temperament. They are the most widely ranging tamarin species in the Amazon.
Goeldi’s monkey (Callimico goeldii) is a rare and cryptic primate occasionally observed at our site. They are larger, quieter, and fond of fungus.
In the summer of 2020, we hope our Peruvian research team will continue our work with additional safety protocols, subject to Peru’s permission to work with wildlife.
Barcoding the Amazon
DNA provides a unique signature for every organism, if you know where to look in its genome. Using near-universal genetic markers we are expanding the DNA barcode library for the Madre de Dios region.
In 2018, we conducted a large-scale monitoring program for birds, bats, small mammals and primates at EBLA, asssessing 400 + animals in 7 weeks.
We sequenced 580 amplicons across multiple mitochondrial markers, adding to the DNA barcode reference library for the region.
We achieved this in conjunction with the Inkaterra Green Lab, the Amazon’s first molecular genomics laboratory.
Trace DNA in Field Laboratories
By tracking individual signatures from some unusual sources of DNA, we hope to monitor species that cannot be approached easily. For example, SNP genotyping DNA from footprints, scat, hair snares, or scent-marks can allow us to build databases of the DNA fingerprint of individual animals at our field site. To do this, we use portable sequencing in field laboratories.
A great portion of time spent doing field research is devoted to figuring out how something originally meant to do A can be re-jigged to perform function B. Applying the same principle today, we can utilize miniature controllers to invent devices that greatly enhance our capabilities in the rainforest.
The Naturechip is a censusing device that snaps an image, records a weight and scans an animal for its microchip.
The Biscuit is a miniaturized GPS collar designed for tamarins. It is low-cost and low-energy, and pretty chic.
We are improving mark-recapture programs on small rats and marsupials by making smart traps to inform us when an animal enters them.
A Giant Ear in the Sky
Using long-range, low-power radio frequencies, we can wire the area surrounding the field station to create a perpetual data collection system that is always listening for signals produced by sensors. These sensors can be anything from a GPS location to a temperature reading. Signals received by the network can be aggregated and transmitted, ideally in real-time.
In 2015, we measured the color (absorbance spectra) of tamarin genitalia, in a bid to understand the biological basis of signaling using a spectrophotometer
In 2017, we used the Torion portable mass spectrometer to analyze scent-gland secretions in wild tamarins – the first effort of its kind.
Since 2015, we have studied tamarin vocalizations, characterizing vocal repertoire and signals of individual and species in sound.