Current Research Interests
Most of my research since 2002 has focused on the conservation and behavioral ecology of Vietnamese primates. Vietnam is home to an interesting diversity of colobines including three Pygathrix (doucs) species, one Rhinopithecus (snub-nosed monkey) and seven Trachypithecus (langurs) species and I am working with Vietnamese colleagues and my graduate students on a number of these taxa. For example, Le Khac Quyet and I have been working in northern most Vietnam studying Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys since 2004. Quyet confirmed the presence of Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys at Khau Ca in Ha Giang Province in 2002 and immediately initiated work to conserve this species at this location. In 2005 Barth Wright joined our research team and was instrumental in the establishment of phenology transects and the analysis of mechanical properties of some of the preferred foods of the Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys. In 2008 Thach Mai Hoang collected data for his M.A. thesis including some observations on daily ranging behavior. Additional collaborators include Nguyen Thi Lan Anh (feeding ecology), Nguyen Anh Duc (botanist interested in forest structure), and Vu Anh Tai (botanist interested in phenology), Amy Harrison-Levine (ethnoprimatology), and Andie Ang (genetic variation).
Since 2006 I have established a strong research partnership with the Southern Institute of Ecology (SIE) in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly the Center for Biodiversity and Development of the Institute of Tropical Biology) where I serve on the advisory committee. We are collaborating on a number of projects including research on the behavioral ecology of black-shanked doucs and Annamese silvered langurs at Ta Kou Nature Reserve in southeastern Vietnam. Working closely with Dr. Hoang Minh Duc and Mr. Tran Van Bang we have collected data on positional behavior, feeding ecology, and habitat use.
More recently the SIE team has focused attention on the Indochinese silvered langurs in Kien Giang Province of southwestern Vietnam. In the summer of 2010 we were able to confirm the presence of more than 160 individuals of this species here; a surprising number in that it had been thought that the regional population was between 60 and 80 individuals. In 2015 we finished surveying for Indochinese silvered langurs throughout this region of Vietnam and estimate that between 350 and 410 individuals are present in six locations.
I have also worked with the SIE team to provide capacity building on primate conservation in a number of protected areas in southern Vietnam including Ta Kou Nature Reserve, Bidoup Nui Ba National Park, and An Toan Nature Reserve and we plan on continuing this work focusing on both colobines and gibbons.
These projects in Ha Giang, Ta Kou, and Kien Giang will continue for the foreseeable future and could serve for a series of MA thesis or PhD dissertation projects for Vietnamese and CU students.
In addition to these projects a number of my graduate students have completed dissertation research in Vietnam during the past decade and their titles accurately capture the range of topics that I am interested in pursuing:
Dr. Larry Ulibarri (2013) “The Socioecology of red-shanked doucs (Pygathrix nemaeus) in Son Tra Nature Reserve, Vietnam”
Dr. Jonathan O’Brien (2014) “The Ecology and Conservation of the Black-Shanked Douc (Pygathrix nigripes) in Cat Tien National Park, Vietnam”
Dr. Le Khac Quyet (2014) “Positional behavior and support use of the Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys (Rhinopithecus avunculus) in Khau Ca Forest, Ha Giang Province, Vietnam”
Dr. Amy Harrison-Levine (2016) “Forest resource overlap in humans and Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys of Ha Giang Province, Vietnam: theoretical and conservation implications”
Dr. Andie Ang (defended – degree will be granted in 2017) “Genetic variability, diet metabarcoding, and conservation of colobine primates in Vietnam”
These projects have afforded me the opportunity to work closely with my graduate students in a variety of areas in Vietnam and each has contributed to the conservation of endangered or critically endangered primates. Of equal importance, I have had the good fortune to work with Vietnamese scientists who until recently have been denied access to the international scientific community. Many of these scholars have been generous in helping facilitate my students research projects and I anticipate that we will continue to collaborate on a range of projects that focus on primate conservation.
I will close this research statement by quoting from Conroy (1997:461): "I sometimes imagine the sound of a shot ringing out, and turn in time to see the last elephant, black rhino, or mountain gorilla slowly sink to its knees in the red African dust. In time that will come to pass and on that day an unbearable loneliness will descend over humankind." I hope that it is not inevitable that this time will come to pass, and in fact, I believe that each of us who have had the wonderful good fortune to be able to conduct research within primate evolutionary biology owe a great deal to the remaining free ranging primate populations. Fulfilling this debt includes the responsibility of being actively engaged in research and education that is directly related to conservation. If we make the effort to share with students, colleagues, administrators and to our communities why conservation is important and if we take the time to link our research with conservation issues, and finally, if some of us participate in the frontline of conservation on the ground working not only to protect the endangered species but also with native scholars and with the people who live nearby, we may be able to protect and successful conserve these creatures.
Conroy, G.C. (1997) Reconstructing Human Origins. W.W. Norton: New York.