Damaraland Mole-rat Project – Kalahari Meerkat Project
Damaraland Mole-rat Project
I am a mole-ratter! I have been a guest scientist at Cambridge University in the Large Animal Research Group, as a result of my extended research assistant position at the Damaraland Mole-rat Project at the Kuruman River Reserve (Kalahari Desert, South Africa). I was responsible for organising and running two sets of experiments; (a) the physiological mechanisms responsible for parental care in related and unrelated individuals and (b) the effect of experimentally manipulated relatedness on the development of the young in the group, as well as monitoring the health of the animals and assisting in the day-to-day management of the field research site in this remote location. This project gave me the chance to develop the abilities needed to conduct top class scientific research, skills in organising and structuring scientific data collection and analysis using mixed models in R. As a result of my contributions, I am currently collaborating with the project.
The Damaraland Mole-rat Project studies the development and behaviour of Damaraland mole-rats (Fukomys damarensis). The study maintains breeding colonies of mole-rats in artificial tunnel systems. Mole-rats are individually dye-marked and recognizable. The work involves regular behavioural observations, measurement, weighing and hormonal monitoring of all individuals in the colonies. Moreover, the study monitors and experiments with wild colonies in the Southern Kalahari.
But first, what are Damaraland mole-rats? They are a cooperative breeding species living in southern Africa. They live in groups of up to 40 individuals with one breeding pair and their offspring reproductive suppress. In the wild, groups live in widespread burrows that provide access to tubers, which are the only source of food and water. In addition, all colony members provide care to newborn pups, for instance retrieving them back to the safety of the nest.
Current research is investigating different areas, such as the dynamic of colonies, the extent and causes of reproductive suppression, the division of labour within colonies and the maternal effect on development and social factors affecting ageing.
Kalahari Meerkat Project
I spent a year as a field researcher on the Kalahari Meerkat Project during 2013-2014, where I developed my behavioural observation skills, ability to check and handle publication-standard data, and engage with a multi-national team. I was also personally responsible for a series of experiments that tested animal personality in meerkats, giving me an excellent opportunity to carry out experiments independently.
The Kalahari Meerkat Project (KMP) is located at the Kuruman River Reserve in Northern South Africa. KMP is a long-term research project studying meerkats (Suricata suricatta), contributing to comprehend the evolution of cooperative behaviour. The field work takes place with habituated groups of wild meerkats, which allow for a variety of empirical questions in evolutionary and behavioural ecology at both individual and population level. The project work on several research lines, such as costs and benefits of cooperative behaviour, hormonal regulation of cooperative behaviour, communication mechanisms and evolution and anti-predator strategies.