Animal Behavior Graduate Receives Fulbright Award to Conduct her Ph.D. Research
Niki Bertrand has been studying primates since she was an undergraduate at Southwestern
Dominique (Niki) Bertrand, an animal behavior major who graduated from Southwestern in 2008, has received a Fulbright Fellowship that will enable her to conduct research for her Ph.D. thesis in Indonesia.
Bertrand is working on her Ph.D. in anthropology at SUNY-Buffalo. Her research focuses on the impact of ecotourism and range restriction on an endangered species of black monkey known as Macaca nigra that lives on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.
Bertrand will be leaving for Indonesia in October and will spend a year conducting research under the auspices of the Macaca Nigra Project (MNP). She has already made two trips to Indonesia to conduct preliminary research for her dissertation.
Bertrand will be conducting her research in the Tangkoko Nature Reserve, which is home to three social groups of critically endangered Macaca nigra that are exposed to varying intensities of anthropogenic stress, including tourism and defense from crop-raiding (via range restriction). Her goal is to determine whether the presence of tourism/range restriction is related to increases in behavioral and/or physiological stress responsiveness, identify which aspects of tourism and which means of range restriction are most stressful, and determine whether the physiological responses to stress are acute or chronic in order to make recommendations for their management.
She hopes her findings will better enable conservation biologists and site managers to identify aspects of tourism and primate management in need of modification, and thus bring tourism operations and human/animal conflict management practices in better alignment with their intended goals.
Bertrand said a local NGO known as Selamatkan Yaki, has already expressed interest in applying her research findings to better coordinate their efforts with the Indonesian government to improve tourism in the Tangkoko reserve.
Bertrand says her research will also be the first to simultaneously measure chronic and acute stress in wild macaques, making a unique contribution to our understanding of the nature of stress responses in wild primates. And because primates are so closely related to humans, it could also enhance our understanding of human stress response.
Bertrand has been studying primates since she was an undergraduate at Southwestern and conducted research at the UT M.D. Anderson Cancer Center’s Michale E. Keeling Center for Comparative Medicine and Research in Bastrop. In her senior year, she received a King Creativity grant for her project titled Basic Instinct: The Hunt for “Pinata Colobus,” in which she studied the hunting behaviors of more than 80 chimpanzees.
“My experiences at Southwestern were integral in shaping who I am today,” Bertrand said. “Attending an undergraduate university focused on scientific research instilled in me a passion for discovery and was the catalyst in my decision to pursue a Ph.D. in order to become an educator. It also inspired my approach to teaching; I believe that allowing undergraduates to participate in the research process is a critical step in the education of the next generation of scientists.”
Bertrand’s Fulbright award will enable her to hire and train two Indonesian research assistants and serve as a research mentor for an Indonesian graduate student. She said these students will learn valuable skills that will empower them to continue to fight for conservation in their local communities and country.