Friday, July 18, 2014

Checking Out Duke Lemur Center

Duke Lemur Center. Durham, North Carolina
Hi all! I flew down to Durham, North Carolina earlier this week to check out Duke Lemur Center where I will be conducting experiments for my Masters thesis. But before I get to that, I just want everyone to know that I overslept and woke up an hour before my flight is supposed to depart.! Lucky for me, I live near the airport so I dashed out the door (I had packed the night before), grabbed a cab, and got to the airport in 20 minutes. That leaves me 10 minutes before the start pre-boarding and guess what? I made it! Achievement unlocked! North Carolina is definitely not like the Northeast (no shit, Raymond). The first day I got to Durham, I immediately noticed the "southern drawl". I felt like everyone's life is moving on a slow pace except mine, so when I talk to them I haaaaad tooooo taaaaaaaaaalk veeeeeryyyyyy slooooooow (New Yorkers are known to talk really really fast). I've only been to Durham and Chapel Hill for the duration I was there but I enjoyed it. Can't wait to go back and explore the area more when I am collecting data.

Prosimians of the world!
Oh, right. Duke Lemur Center. I got to see all the ruffed lemurs, both red ruffed and black-and-white ruffed, (Varecia variegata spp.) that I will be working with. They are precious, and cute, and adorbs. They somehow reminded me of cats (Yes, I'm a cat lady). I coordinated the trip to the lemur center with the Research Manager at Duke Lemur Center, Erin Ehmke, so that I can see the ruffed lemurs as well as their enclosures. This way, it would be easier for me to plan/imagine where the experimental apparatus will be set up. My research will be on foraging ecology, and I hope to be able to do my data collection in late Fall, if not the beginning of Winter.

Photo by David Haring, Duke Lemur Center.
I was lucky enough to be able to get inside the enclosures with the ruffed lemurs (I have to provide proof of negative TB result from a PPD test). Now I have photographic proof that I'm actually at Duke Lemur Center! Thanks to David Haring for taking pictures of me with the ruffed lemurs! Totes cool. You can check out Haring's portfolio here.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

My Life So Far ...

Hi readers! I'm sure most of you have been waiting for me to update my blog. Apologies for the long leave of absence. I have been busy with grad school, but as the Spring 2014 semester came to an end, I'm glad to report that I have finished taking all the course work I needed for my Animal Behavior and Conservation (ABC) MA. Right now the MA is in the horizon; I just need to finish my data collection, write up my thesis, and defend it before I graduate.

I am currently working with Dr. Andrea Baden at Hunter College for my MA thesis. It will be on ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata sp.) sensory and foraging ecology. I plan on going to Duke Lemur Center later this Summer or early Fall for data collection, so if there are any readers that goes to Duke University or live near Durham/Chapel Hill, feel free to contact me so we can meet up. You can also find out more about me on the About Me tab.

What I would be like if I am a ruffed lemur.

Since my previous post, MPIG 2013: Thank You Iowa State University!, I have been working on the poster I presented there. Thanks to all the feedback I've received, I re-analyzed my data and was able to present a more cohesive story and result. If I have to reiterate again, MPIG is a great conference to go to if you want to showcase your work and wanted feedback. I have also heard through the grapevines (or liana vines) that there is now a Northeast Primate Interest Group. Will update you on that when I find out more about it.

I recently gave a talk at the 2nd annual CUNY Animal Behavior Initiative (CABI) conference at The Bronx Zoo. It was my first time giving this talk, and although my talk was cut short to only 5 minutes, I felt like I was able to convey my story and research. I spoke about hamadryas baboon handedness and why it is important to me as an anthropologist and primatologist. It was a compelling story and everyone cried (no they didn't, it was a complete fabrication). They seem to have enjoyed the talk though based on their feedback.

Doing what I do best, convincing people that hamadryas baboons are interesting. Photo taken at the 2nd annual CABI conference.

It's conference season! As far as conferences go, I will be at the ISBE conference at Hunter College (New York, NY), ABS conference at Princeton University (Princeton, NJ) and ASP conference at Decatur, GA. My poster presentations have been accepted in the latter two conferences. I'm hoping that my poster for ISBE will be accepted as well! Again, if you are attending any of these conferences, please let me know so we can meet up and mingle!

I hope to have enough time to be able to update this blog again. I will try to post more about my current research. With the advent of Twitter, I have just been tweeting and retweeting exciting primate news. Until the next post ....

Sunday, October 20, 2013

MPIG 2013: Thank You Iowa State University!

Another great MPIG conference, this year in Iowa State University. Though this is only my second MPIG conference, I feel like this is one of the greatest regional conference to participate in. Great science and good people all around. It's one of the reason why a Northeasterner like me is in the midwest every year. Thanks for Jill Pruetz and Stacy Lindshield for such great hosts.

Also, thanks to those who stopped me and said hi during the conference. I love meeting my blog readers. You have no idea how happy you make me when you tell me you read my blog!

MPIG 2013 Pre Registration

Keynote Speaker Dr. Paul Garber, Distinguished Primatologist, on Primate Feeding Ecology

MPIG Reception

Dr. Julienne Rutherford presenting the first talk of the conference, "Ten Years of MPIG". Congrats for being 10 years old, MPIG!

Yours truly and his poster.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

MPIG 2013 Poster

Here's my poster for MPIG 2013.


Gestural communication is thought to be a precursor to the origin of human language. Since human language is lateralized between brain hemispheres, is there also a lateralization in gestural communication in nonhuman primates?

This preliminary study sought to elucidate whether the hamadryas baboon (Papio hamadryas) troop at the Prospect Park Zoo in Brooklyn, New York exhibits hand preference in gestural communication. Two types of gestural communication were examined: hand slapping and muzzle wiping. An all occurrence sampling method was completed in 3 weeks with a total of 24 hours of observation and data collection. The Handedness Index (HI) for each individual (N=7) was calculated for both hand slapping and muzzle wiping.

This study revealed that most P. hamadryas individuals at the Prospect Park Zoo exhibit a right hand preference for hand slapping, but exhibit no hand preference for muzzle wiping. These results are consistent with previous studies on another baboon species, olive baboons (Papio anubis) (Vauclair et al., 2005; Meguerditchian & Vauclair, 2006; Meguerditchian & Vauclair, 2009). Results from this preliminary study can contribute to the study of nonhuman primate handedness, as well as the evolution of language.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Nonhuman Primate Handedness: Is there is a population-level preference?

Do you write with your left hand or right hand? When ask to open a jar, do you use your left or right hand? A handful of "tasks" can be used to determine your hand preference. Just because someone uses their right hand to write doesn't automatically makes them a right-handed person; some cultures frown upon left hand use and taught left-handed children to write with their right hand.

Humans are usually righties (right-handed), preferring to use their right hands for most manual tasks. Most, I said, because there are instances where reaching over with the closest hand would suffice. About 70% to 90% of the world population is right-handed. Then you have the lefties (left-handed) who basically are going to hell because they are the devil's minion (no, not really LOL!). Sprinkled among them are the ambidextrous, those that use their left and right hand with no preference. But is this true in nonhuman primates? Ever wonder if other primates have hand preference like we do?

Handedness is due to the lateralization of the brain hemispheres (Knecht et al., 2000). Individuals that are right-handed have a more dominant left brain hemisphere, while those that are left-handed have a more dominant right brain hemisphere. In most humans (Homo sapiens), the left brain hemisphere is more dominant, thus the majority of the human population is right-handed (Knecht et al., 2000). The human left brain hemisphere is also involved in language and is where Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area are located (Knecht et al., 2000). Broca’s area is involved in speech production while Wernicke’s area is involved in language comprehension. Lateralization results in a preference for handedness in humans (Knecht et al., 2000). That is, an individual is left-handed or right-handed due to brain lateralization, while ambidextrous individuals are not lateralized at all.

A meta analysis by McGrew and Marchant (1997) on hand laterality in nonhuman primates concluded that nonhuman primates do not show patterns of hand preference. Instead, the authors claim that even though individuals might be lateralized and have a preference for either left or right hand, there is no evidence that hand preference exists in population-level. The only nonhuman primates that have a population bias in handedness are chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) but are from captive populations (McGrew & Marchant, 1997). The authors claim that patterns of handedness in nonhuman primates cannot be used as a theoretical framework for the evolution of handedness and brain lateralization in humans because only few primates display handedness and most are from captive settings (McGrew & Marchant, 1997).

However, Hopkins (1999) argued that the criteria used by McGrew and Marchant (1997) to measure individual and population-level handedness were inaccurate, therefore oversimplifying the results. Instead, Hopkins (1999) offered new methodologies and a theoretical framework to interpret population-level nonhuman primate handedness. While McGrew and Marchant (1997) claimed that population-level hand preference is absent in nonhuman primates, Hopkins (1999) argued that McGrew and Marchant (1997) had left out a few significant studies in their meta analysis which showed population-level handedness. These studies have shown that population-level hand preference can be found in captive chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), bonobos (Pan paniscus), and squirrel monkeys (Saimiri sciureus) (Aruguete et al., 1992; Colell et al., 1995; Hopkins, 1995 ; Hopkins and de Waal, 1995; Hopkins et al., 1993; Shafer, 1997). Similar studies on prosimians (Ward et al., 1990; Ward et al., 1993), New World Monkeys (Diamond & McGrew, 1994; Westergaard & Suomi, 1993) Old World Monkeys (Fagot et al., 1991; Vauclair et al., 2005; Meguerditchian & Vauclair, 2006; Meguerditchian & Vauclair, 2009), and great apes (Hopkins & Morris, 1993) have also shown patterns of population-level hand preference. 

A study by Vauclair et al (2005) found that olive baboons (Papio anubis) have a population-level preference for right handedness when performing bimanual tasks but no significant preference in handedness when performing unimanual tasks. Later, Meguerditchian & Vauclair (2006) found that olive baboons (P. anubis) have a preference for right handedness when communicating. Specifically, olive baboons use their right hands to hand slap when presented with agonistic stimuli by experimenters. Subsequent study on communicative gestures and non-communicative actions in olive baboons suggests that preference for right handedness may be due to the left brain hemisphere dominance, and that lateralization may have favored right handedness in communicative gestures as opposed to pure motor functions in unimanual tasks (Meguerditchian & Vauclair, 2009).

Picture of an adult Olive baboon performing the TUBE task. (Vauclair et al., 2005)

Although there were a few studies on hand preference in Old World monkeys, only rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) (Fagot et al., 1991) and olive baboons (Papio anubis) (Vauclair et al., 2005; Meguerditchian & Vauclair, 2006; Meguerditchian & Vauclair, 2009) were tested for hand preference. So far, no hand preference study has been published on hamadryas baboons (Papio hamadryas) to elucidate whether these baboons exhibit population-level handedness.

BLOGGER'S NOTE: I will be presenting a poster on hamadryas baboon hand preference in gestural communications at the Midwest Primate Interest Group (MPIG) 2013. Please read my next post for a PDF version of the poster.


Aruguete, M. S., Ely, E. A., and King, J. 1992. Laterality in spontaneous motor activity of chimpanzees and squirrel monkeys. Am. J. Primatol. 27: 177-188.

Colell, M., Segarra, M. D., and Pi, J. S. 1995. Manual laterality in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) in complex tasks. J. Comp. Psychol. 109: 298-307.

Diamond, A.C., & McGrew, W.C. 1994. True handedness in the cotton-top tamarins (Saguinus oedipus). Primates 35: 69-77.

Fagot, J., Drea, C.M., & Wallen, K. 1991. Asymmetrical hand use in rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) in tactually and visually regulated tasks. Journal of Comparative Psychology 150: 260-268.

Hopkins, W.D. 1995. Hand Preferences for a Coordinated Bimanual Task in 110 Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes): Cross-Sectional Analysis. Journal of Comparative Psychology 109(3): 291 - 297.

Hopkins, W.D. 1999. On the Other Hand: Statistical Issues in the Assessment and Interpretation of Hand Preference Data in Nonhuman Primates. International Journal of Primatology 20 (6).

Hopkins, W.D., & Morris, R.D. 1993. Handedness in great apes. A review of findings. International of Journal of Primatology 14: 1-25.

Hopkins, W. D., and de Waal, F. D. 1995. Behavioral laterality in captive bonobos (Pan paniscus): Replication and extension. Int. J. Primatol. 16: 261-276.

Knecht, S., Dräger, B., Deppe, M., Bobe, L., Lohmann, H., Flöel, A., et al. 2000. Handedness and hemispheric language dominance in healthy humans. Brain 123: 2512–2518.

McGrew W.C., & Marchant L.F. 1997. On the Other Hand: Current Issues in and Meta-Analysis of the Behavioral Laterality of Hand Function in Nonhuman Primates. Yearbook of Physical Anthropology 40:201–232.

Meguerditchian, A. & Vauclair, J. 2006. Baboons communicate with their right hand. Behavioural Brain Research 171 (2006) 170–174.

Meguerditchian, A. & Vauclair, J. 2009. Contrast of hand preferences between communicative gestures and non-communicative actions in baboons: Implications for the origins of hemispheric specialization for language. Brain & Language 108 (2009) 167–174.

Shafer, D. D. 1997. Hand preference behaviors shared by two groups of captive bonobos. Primates 38: 303-313.

Vauclair et al., 2005. Hand preferences for unimanual and coordinated bimanual tasks in baboons (Papio anubis). Brain Res Cogn Brain Res. 25(1): 210–216.

Ward, J.P., Milliken, G.W., & Stafford, D.K. 1993. Patterns of lateralized behavior in prosimians. In J.P. Ward & W.D. Hopkins (Eds.), Primate laterality: Current behavioral evidence of primate asymmetries (pp. 43-76). New York: Springer-Verlag.

Ward, J.P., Milliken, G.W., Dodson, D.L., Stafford, D.K., & Wallace, M. 1990. Handedness as a function of sex and age in a large population of Lemur. Journal of Comparative Psychology 104: 167-173.

Westergaard, G.C., & Suomi, S.J. 1993. Hand preference in capuchin monkeys varies with age. Primates 34: 295-300.