The phrase “nonhuman primates” is not often used in casual conversation, but it was probably used frequently, when students and scholars interested in nonhuman primates gathered as a community for the 7th Annual South Florida Primatology Meeting hosted by Florida Southern College.
The meeting was an opportunity for FSC students and faculty to showcase their research accomplishments and connect with professionals from zoos, sanctuaries, and other academic institutions from across the state. Registered guests from 18 different institutions including Florida Atlantic University, University of Florida, University of Central Florida, Eckerd College, Jacksonville Zoo, and Naples Zoo attended the meeting.
After Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Christy Wolovich, Ph.D., welcomed the assembled group, she led a discussion on Research in Primatology, presenting “Symmetry and potential heritability of facial markings in nocturnal owl monkeys (Aotus nancymaae).” During the same session, FSC biology graduate Rachel Breitenbach ’22, currently studying Veterinary Medicine at University of Florida, took the podium to discuss “The importance of auditory, olfactory, and visual cues for insect foraging in owl monkeys (Aotus nancymaae).”
“I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to both present my research and learn about other's research projects and conservation programs at the 2023 South Florida Primatology Conference,” Breitenbach said. “I learned a lot of new information about the preservation of primates in the wild and captivity.”
Dr. Susan Banks, Associate Professor of Biology, presented “Behavioral indicators of cortisol levels in captive owl monkeys (Aotus nancymaae),” while marine biology major Fallon Guild ’22 shared her research investigating the glandular microbiome of owl monkeys (Aotus spp.) that was conducted under the guidance of Dr. Melanie Langford, FSC Associate Professor of Biology.
Current students, environmental studies major Mia Alikhan ’24 and biology major Brinn Dameron ’24 presented the methodological details of a proposed experiment to examine the role of facial pelage (hair) on intraspecific communication in nocturnal owl monkeys.
“The experience of getting to attend and be a part of the South Florida Primate meeting was so eye-opening,” Dameron said. “Being in the room with some of the top minds and listening to open conversations with a common goal to help better the lives of primates allowed my fellow students and me to see collaboration across the field. The opportunity to also present a research proposal and talk with the professionals in attendance allowed my partner, Mia Alikhan, and me to think about our research on a larger scale.”
A session that focused on the Behavioral Ecology & Conservation of Primates saw alumna Gabrielle Risko ‘22 present on “Chemical mate-guarding in owl monkeys.”
“My presentation on chemical mate-guarding in owl monkeys discussed the results of a study I performed as an undergraduate honors student at FSC,” Risko said. “I and another honors student worked with a colony of owl monkeys at the Dumond Conservancy in Miami, and we spent many nights watching their behavioral responses to chemical cues we introduced into their enclosures. I am extremely thankful to Florida Southern for giving me the opportunity to create and conduct my own research project as an undergrad. It has been a great experience to share the results of my hard work and make connections with established primatologists and animal caretakers.”
Retired NASA Veterinarian, Dr. Joseph Bielitzki gave the keynote address “Emerging infectious diseases, ethics in primatology, and community-based conservation.” Dr. Bielitzki not only oversaw the care of the last two primates sent into space but was also instrumental in the writing and acceptance of the NASA Bioethical Principles for the Use of Animals in Research. He also has experience in institutional, private practice, and consulting, including many years at the Washington National Primate Research Center. He chaired the Institutional Review Board (IRB) and coordinated the human research protection program. Dr. Bielitzki also served as the Associate Director of the NanoScience Technology Center at the University of Central Florida.
“I have previously had very few experiences with the development of care and husbandry plans for captive primates, a topic introduced to me during the conference’s roundtable discussion and visit to the orangutan exhibit at ZooTampa,” Breitenbach said. “I had been unaware of the huge amount of research and effort that has been dedicated to creating plans to provide rewarding and proper care to captive primates. This conference served as a unique learning and networking opportunity for me and other attendees.”
The 7th Annual South Florida Primatology Meeting received support from Sue Pasquine at ZooTampa; Frank DuMond of Monkey Jungle and DuMond Conservancy; and FSC Department Chair, Dr. Nancy Morvillo, Professor of Biology and Nelson C. White Chair in the Life Sciences.