Monkey Jungle has a long history (beginning in the mid-1960’s) of fostering scientific study that makes significant contributions to our understanding of primate biology, ecology, behavior and development. The DuMond Conservancy oversees the innovative observational research conducted at the park. Of particular note, research here involves scientists in various stages of their careers—from university students and young professionals in the formative periods of their careers to seasoned investigators—and middle school to high school students enjoying their first experience in a STEM oriented environment. The following illustrate the breadth of primate related topics that can be investigated cooperatively in a naturalistic setting.
Behavior and Ecology
The biological underpinnings of the seasonality of squirrel monkey social behavior and reproduction was discovered through observations in the Monkey Jungle Amazon Rainforest. This study is recognized as one of the seminal works in primatology. In a phenomenon that is witnessed annually during breeding season at Monkey Jungle, normally scrawny male squirrel monkeys experience a “hormonal surge” that causes them to bulk up like little body builders. See: DuMond, F.V. and Hutchinson, T.C. (1967). Squirrel monkey reproduction “The fatted male phenomenon and season spermatogenesis” Science 158 1067-1070
The close bond that Monkey Jungle caretakers form with the primates has permitted psychologists to creatively investigate important cognitive abilities including self-awareness and episodic memory (memory for specific events) in great apes. See: Schwartz, B.M. Colon, M.R. Sanchez, I.C., Rodriguez, I.A. and Evans, S. (2002). Single-trial learning of “what” and “who” information in a gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla): Implications for episodic memory. Animal Cognition 5 85-90
The evolution of color vision in New World monkeys. See: Jacobs, G. H and Deegan. J.F.II (2001) Photopigments and colour vision in New World monkeys from the family Atelidae. Proc. R. Soc. B 268 695-702
Interpreting the information that male black and white colobus monkeys send to others when they roar. This study investigated the responses of male black and white colobus monkeys when the roars of other males were played back to them. See: Harris, T.H., Fitch, W.T., Goldstein, L.M. and Fashing, P.J. (2006). Black and white colobus monkeys (Colobus guereza): roars as a source of both honest and exaggerated information about body mass. Ethology 112 911-920
Integrating different techniques to interpret the skeletal morphology of New World monkeys in order to improve our understanding of primate evolution. See: Turnquist, J.E. Schmitt, D., Rose, M.D. and Cant, J.G.H. (1999) Pendular motion in brachiation in captive Lagothrix and Ateles. Am. J. Primatol. 48(4) 263-282
One of the studies conducted at Monkey Jungle entailed an investigation into the memory processes of a western lowland gorilla and two orangutans. More specifically, studies such as these look into a particular kind of memory that cognitive psychologists call episodic memory.
Episodic memory is the kind of memory that allows people to remember specific events from their lives. Episodic memories can include recent events as well as fairly distant events. Episodic memory also includes more significant events that we retain for much longer periods of time, such as a first kiss.
Dr. Bennett Schwartz set to find out if gorillas and orangutans might possess these types of memories. For more information about his research or to contact him, please visit his website at Florida International University.
As a high school sophomore at Pine Crest High School in Fort Lauderdale, Amy Schnidman approached the DuMond Conservancy about the possibility of conducting her own research project at Monkey Jungle. Specifically, she wanted to investigate Dr. Robin Dunbar’s theory that language evolved in hominids as a more efficient method of social bonding.
Dunbar suggests that grooming is the primary mechanism for social bonding in non-human primates. However, as group size increased during primate evolution, primates did not have enough time to maintain social bonds through grooming. This may have created pressure to develop a more efficient method of establishing and maintaining bonds within in a group, and Dunbar proposes that language developed as that method.
Research investigating human conversation support Dunbar’s hypothesis. Such studies have revealed that approximately two-thirds of conversations were social gossip. Dunbar suggests the function of gossip is similar to grooming in our primate cousins.
Before Amy began doing her own research at the DuMond Conservancy she contacted Robin Dunbar for advice. She also shared her ideas with Japanese primatologist, Nakamura, who studies a similar question in chimpanzee social groups. After talking with these and other primatologists, Amy decided to study the large group of over one hundred Java macaques at the Conservancy…
Amy observed the macaques grooming in large grooming cliques of up to eight monkeys. This is probably much larger than any grooming clique that would be observed in nature, and it may be a result of the protection and food resources made available to the monkeys at our facility. Amy also investigated the role of communication in grooming. She found that communication was used to initiate grooming, but was not observed during grooming.
Amy has interpreted these results as not supporting Dunbar’s hypothesis, but she is continuing to investigate the topic. She has received state-wide recognition for her scientific abilities, and was recently granted first prize in the Florida Junior Academy of Science Competition. We wish her all the luck in her future studies and research.