Editor's Note: Jay is now in Palenque, Mexicoto start behavioral research on black howler monkeys in the field.
Biology major Jay Schwartz ’12 is fascinated by primates, so he jumped at the chance to join Minnesota Zoo researchers in a project involving macaques.
“The zoo recently brought in four macaques from a zoo in Japan,” says Schwartz, “and they are interested in discerning how this introduction is influencing the social structure of the Minnesota Zoo’s macaques. My role is to collect data by conducting behavioral observations from outside the exhibit.”
Before he began his observations, Schwartz was trained to identify aggressive behavior such as attacks, chasing, and displacement (one monkey makes another leave and takes its spot) and bonding behavior, such as grooming. He then needed to pass an observer reliability test. But the part that made him wonder “Am I ever going to be able to do this?” was the requirement to be able to identify by sight each of the now-19 macaques.
During his sessions at the zoo, Schwartz stands outside the exhibit with a clipboard, documenting, in 15-minute blocks, his one-at-a-time observations of five to seven monkeys. He then enters the data in an Excel spreadsheet for use by the conservation researchers with whom he works.
Macaques are found from Japan to Afghanistan, but you don’t have the introduction of different groups occurring in nature. So this observational research is valuable, original research.
As a senior, Schwartz is studying evolution and intelligent design for his capstone project, investigating the science of intelligent design and why it has been so successful in acquiring adherents. He also plays drums in the “metal-ish” band Maeth and sang in Macalester’s Concert Choir for two-and-a- half years. Schwartz is applying for field assistantships and hopes to do some additional work in South America or Africa before pursuing a PhD.