Part One: Mihita biby ve ianao?
As mentioned in my previous post, I am studying the foraging and nutritional ecology of Varecia at Mangevo – so I thought I’d describe what I actually do in the field in a bit more detail. I’m hoping to collect sufficient data to find out more about the Varecia diet; what plant species they forage from and during which seasons, daily feeding budget, and what nutrition they gain from this. As this is a pilot study to gather the first data explicitly studying the diet of this species, it has involved a bit of trial and error so far! But I will hopefully be able to see how their diet varies both between individuals and over time and understand more about their ecology and how this may be related to behaviour and life history.
To collect data on feeding behaviour, I conduct all-day follows on 15 collared individuals once per month, alongside a team of techs collecting long term data for Andrea’s project. During these days, I record the total time spent feeding vs other behaviours, as well as the plant species, part eaten, and number of units consumed. This will hopefully allow me to work out how much time they spend feeding and how much they actually eat in a day. Hence “mihita biby ve ianao?” - Pierre likes to frequently check “can you see the animal?” - thankfully most of the time I can, though sometimes it’s a no when I’m too busy being tangled in vines or sliding in mud down the hillside!!
Part two: tsy misy voa!
On the last two days of each expedition, me and my team go out to collect plant samples. We aim to collect ~50 units each of all of the species foraged on during that expedition, ideally from trees we observed individuals foraging in (which I process and dry in the lab back at CVB). This is where the dreaded phrase “tsy misy voa” or “there is no fruit” haunts me…sometimes the trees fruit for such a short period of time that when I come to collect fruit, there already isn’t any left – even if only a week or two has passed!
I thought the fruit collection days would be a nice, chilled end to each expedition, but I was so wrong… the conditions and type of forest (the trees are SO TALL) mean it’s not possible to collect samples from every single species, so we to prioritise the most frequently eaten fruits. Collecting fruit samples does bring about some pretty funny situations; highlights from this month include sling-shotting competitions, wildly flinging sticks at the canopy, and even both cooks shimmying high up into giant trees! Doing the fruit collection is also a great opportunity to see some other cool animals in the forest too – this month I saw lots of Brookesia (chameleons), held a large ground boa (snake), and got to hang out with sifakas, red-bellied and red-fronted lemurs!! Ilari, a master’s student currently working on the project, didn’t have such a great time and got stung by a scorpion – his arm was swollen and painful for three days! Hopefully he will have better luck next month…