CHES faculty and director, Erin Vogel, was awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation’s to support her research, “Integrative Wildlife Nutrition: From Molecules to Macro-Ecology” for 2.2 million USD. This award is in collaboration with colleagues, Dr. Katherine Amato (Northwestern University), Dr. Jessica Rothman (Hunter College), Dr. Rosemary Braun (Northwestern University), and Dr. Elizabeth Johnson (Cornell University). The work will examine the relationships between ecology, nutrition, gut microbiome, energetics, and health among 2 primate frugivore communities in Tuanan (Indonesia) and Kibale (Uganda). This is a collaborative effort that would not be possible without our long-term international collaborators at these two field sites and all of the students and researchers that have worked with us over the years. The abstract for this project is below.
Food availability often varies extensively in different habitats and across time (i.e., seasons and years). To obtain sufficient nutrients and energy to survive and reproduce, animals must adjust their feeding and nutritional strategies. Most animal feeding ecology research only provides insight into part of an animal’s strategy, but this team will integrate their diverse research expertise—ranging from molecules to behavior to ecosystems—to provide a more holistic understanding. More specifically, the investigators will study six species of primates across seasons in two tropical forests and will integrate data that quantifies how each individual moves through their habitats to find food, what foods it chooses, how the food is digested by the animal itself and by microbes that live in its gut, and how this ultimately affects its physiology and health. Ultimately, the researchers aim to identify a unified principle of animal nutrition that can improve our understanding of how animals respond and adapt to food scarcity. In addition, it will also advance knowledge of microbe-microbe interactions and host-microbe interactions in wild animals and provide new applications for multi-scale data analysis tools. The project will provide hands-on interdisciplinary training to postdoctoral fellows, graduate and undergraduate students, park wardens, and community members, the majority of whom will belong to underrepresented groups in STEM. This project will also involve multiple outreach activities, including workshops on primate ecology, microbiology, genomics, nutrition, and conservation for public urban middle school students.
The project will target six species of wild frugivorous primates--pig-tailed macaques (Macaca nemestrina), redtail monkeys (Cercopithecus ascanius), grey-cheeked mangbeys (Lophocebus albigena), blue monkeys (Cercopithecus mitis), orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus wurmbii), and white-bearded gibbons (Hylobates albibarbus)--occupying two long-term field sites (Tuanan Biological Research Station, Indonesia and Kibale National Park, Uganda). Leveraging data collected continuously across seasons at each site for two years, the project will determine the extent to which feeding behavior, nutrient intake, physiology, and microbiome function shift in response to food availability in individual wild, non-human primate species over time (Intra-species Level), compare the relative importance of behavioral, physiological, and microbial strategies for modulating nutrition among sympatric non-human primate species (Inter-species Level), and determine the extent to which non-human primate strategies for modulating nutrition are conserved between forests with different patterns of food availability (Ecosystem Level). The project will facilitate the development of improved models of primate nutrition that can be used to identify unified principles of nutrition that can be tested and applied across a range of ecological contexts and scales.