Sep 5, 2016 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Behavior research dream: from Ocean to Alpine.

My name is Airy Peralta, I grew up at the Southeast of Mexico in the city of Villahermosa and moved to La Paz, Mexico to study what I thought was my dream, marine biology. As time in my undergraduate program passed and I explored many areas of research, I discovered my real passion was ethology (the science of animal behavior).

By the end of my undergraduate program I got the opportunity to do a research project for my honor thesis about blue whale behavior. This project got me camping on a little island for 3 months where I had the opportunity of observe a bunch of animals (marine and terrestrial) and their behavior. I knew that I wanted to know more and not only about marine animals, so I decided to find a good ecology program for graduate school. In Mexico there aren’t any programs focused in ethology, but only general biology, fisheries, and resources management, so I knew I had to get out of there.

Airy doing whale research

After much research I found many good programs in the U.S.A., but the problem was that my English wasn’t very good, so I enrolled in the Au Pair program. While in this program I met Joseph Merritt, a senior mammalogist with the Illinois Natural History Survey. He gave me one of his books with a little cute animal on the cover that was carrying grass and flowers and that was the first time I saw a pika. Before this I did not know what a pika was. As I kept reading I got more interested and discovered that it wasn’t a mouse as I thought but a kind of rabbit. I called him and asked him if he knew about researchers in Colorado that work with this animal. He told me about Chris Ray, so I contacted her to see if I could volunteer. Fortunately, she gave me the opportunity to experience another kind of research.

Airy doing pika work - collage

So I passed from walking at sea level to hiking, biking, talking, sledding in trash bags, collecting field data and making new friends in an alpine environment. This was my best summer in years. For #teamPika16 I was given the opportunity to start a behavioral project using camera traps. This is awesome because with cameras you can discover what pikas do when there is no human presence. Cameras also let us know that pika are not only active during the day, but at night too. This leads us to question if are they more active at night or in the morning, and also how the proportion of nocturnal activity is changing as the climate is changing.

Automated photos of a pika territory at night versus during the day

To answer this question won’t be an easy job. Pikas are really quick and elusive animals, leading the camera trap to trigger many photos, plus the photos that other animals trigger; this leaves us with about 4000 photos to analyze so far! It will take some time but we will get there and I am pretty sure this will lead to interesting results. Until then, see you next season.


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