With this award Drs. Douglas and Maria Eifler of the Erell Institute, Lawrence, Kansas, will carry out collaborative research with faculty from the Gobabeb Training and Research Center in Namibia.
In this International Research Experiences for Students (IRES) project, students from the U.S. and Namibia together will engage in research on the behavior of Namib Desert lizards. Projects will be supervised jointly with Center faculty and may include studies of foraging behavior, social structure, or movement patterns, as well as the impact of mining on lizard behavior and distribution.
The intellectual merit of this project is based on its broad focus on ecological dynamics and interconnectedness in a fragile arid ecosystem. Each of the student projects - lizard foraging, sociality, land use and effects from human land use - contributes a unique dimension. Given the observability of lizards, the research plans are realistic and likely to generate new scientific understandings pivotal to desert ecology. These results will be used to validate or adjust existing theories developed in other arid environments (US, South America, Australia). The study will also contribute to the emerging field of herpetological conservation.
The broader impacts include development and dissemination of knowledge of the dynamic and interconnected nature of desert ecosystems, training students in behavioral ecology with a global perspective and diversifying the science and technology workforce. Workforce development is accomplished through professional development activities, including a journal club, writing and presentation assignments, as well as social and cultural activities. These efforts build upon the Eifler?s successful mentoring of undergraduate field-based ecology research with Native American students in diverse field locations (Costa Rica, Mexico, and the Caribbean).
Our project was designed to 1) increase our understanding of reptile behavior, specifically how animals adjust to specific conditions in arid environments, and 2) help increase the diversity of students pursuing science careers by providing international research experience to aspiring undergraduate science students. For two field seasons, we recruited 8 Native American undergraduates (2 cohorts of 4), provided them with preparatory training in research methods, animal behavior, and herpetology, and brought them to Namibia where they teamed up with Namibian undergraduate research collaborators to conduct 5 weeks of field research. Research projects were conducted in the Namib Desert in two habitat types: sand dunes and gravel plains. Research in the sand dunes focused on two related species of diurnal Desert Lizards (Meroles). The two species use different parts of dunes: bases vs. slippery slopes. For the base-dwelling species, we determined how individuals use the habitat and assessed the influence of age and sex on patterns of space use. For the slope-dwelling species, we examined how slope characteristics influence escape behavior and how weather conditions influence hunting behavior. An experimental manipulation of slope conditions suggests that the presence of vegetation on slopes makes them more appealing to the base-dwelling species and less appealing to the "slope-dwelling" species. Research in the gravel plains focused on the ecology of two species of geckos: one diurnal and one nocturnal. The two species live in the same rocky area, sometimes being found on the same rocks (at different times of day). We characterized the activity periods and habitat use for both species and addressed the possibility that species that are active at different times might still influence each other. Our findings indicate that the two geckos have slightly different habitat preferences and many rocks are used by only one species. Where they co-occur on the same rocks, those rocks contain the preferred habitat of both species. In general, our research helped identify the environmental characteristics that are important for determining habitat quality and influencing a variety of decisions for animals living in relatively "simple" environments.