Professional Conference Has Wide Reaching Benefits

Mar 27, 2018

by Dr. Nancy Morvillo
Professor of Biology

The animals at the Brevard Zoo in Melbourne, FL, recently welcomed some unique visitors, with very important business.

Last month, the 4th Annual South Florida Primatology meeting was held at the Brevard Zoo. Among the attendees were Dr. Christy Wolovich, Associate Professor of Biology, and four FSC students: Malique Bowen ‘20, Guerbine Fils-Aime ‘18, Ryan Hegseth ‘20, and Carly Miles ’19.

South Florida Primatology is an interest group that seeks to build a regional network of primatologists in Florida and beyond. Attendees at the meeting represented a wide variety of interests, coming from zoos, universities, sanctuaries, research centers, and non-profit organizations.

Dr. Wolovich during her research talk
Dr. Wolovich during her research talk

“Students in attendance hope to pursue careers related to animal behavior and training and/or environmental biology,” Dr. Wolovich noted. “The keynote address, research presentations about animal training and the roundtable discussion about animal resilience were especially interesting.”

Fils-Aime, who will be graduating in May, and Miles are both majoring in Environmental Studies. Bowen and Hegseth are Marine Biology majors.

“The theme of this year’s meeting was Bettering the Welfare of Animals in Captivity,” Miles commented. “As someone who wants to work within that very field, and specifically with primates, it was so encouraging to see so many like-minded individuals coming together with the same goals.”

Dr. Wolovich presented her research entitled "Behavioral responses of nocturnal owl monkeys (Aotus nancymaae) to chemical cues of potential predators" and Fils-Aime presented her research in a poster entitled "An examination of urinary c-peptide levels to estimate energetic condition in relation to foraging motivation in Aotus nancymaae".

“The talk and poster were both well-received,” Dr. Wolovich said. Both projects were funded by an FSC Faculty-Student Collaborative Research Grant.

This was Fils-Aime’s second time presenting at a conference, and she commented on the friendly atmosphere at the meetings. “Everyone is so open and welcoming, and ready to take the time to explain their research or answer questions,” she said. “It's a very good environment to encourage research and research students, no matter if they want to go into veterinary medicine or other fields.”

Fils-Aime during her poster presentation
Fils-Aime during her poster presentation

The students not only had a chance to attend the meeting, but also to explore the Brevard Zoo. And Dr. Wolovich established connections with animal care staff at the zoo and at Lion Country Safari as well as with faculty at the Florida Institute for Technology, for possible future research collaborations.

“There seems to be a great need for collaboration, to have lab analyses of animal samples in order to better understand behavior,” Dr. Wolovich explained. “For example, there is a need to run cortisol assays to determine stress levels which could be related to training, enrichment and social housing.”

This type of research is interdisciplinary in nature, combining studies in animal behavior with molecular analysis. “There are plenty of possibilities that would greatly benefit the zoo community,” Dr. Wolovich said.

The students enjoyed the conference immensely.

“Attending a conference always makes me feel more confident with what I’m doing with my career path,” Bowen said. “I met so many people that were not only eager to share their research but also eager to hear about anything I was doing or interested in.”

“It was also amazing to see the research that some of the leading primatologists are currently working on,” Miles said. “As a prospective research student, it gave me a really good look into direct field research involving primates. It made me feel so great about the field that I plan on entering after graduation.”