The entirety of this past week’s BSURF meetings were dedicated to giving Chalk Talks, giving everyone in BSURF an opportunity to learn about and engage with each other’s research. My eyes were opened to the range of topics being investigated. Previously I had some concept of what my fellow BSURFers were studying using blanket labels like “neurobiology” or “plant biology” and what I had learned from their blog posts. But with time having passed and projects having progressed and evolved, Chalk Talks gave a new opportunity to understand the various research projects in a deeper way and have lingering questions answered. As someone who is very much a visual learner, the emphasize on drawings and schematics in these presentations really helped to develop my understanding.
A project I found really interesting was Christine’s. Her project was a little different from the other research being conducted in BSURF. Her research focuses on studying baboons and hierarchal stress amongst males. Her main question was, “Do alpha and low-ranking baboons experience different sources of stress?” I found the infrastructure involved in this research and the previous findings to be really interesting. Previous research has found that the alpha males experience high levels of stress due to energetic costs, while the beta males experience significantly lower levels of stress. Interestingly, as you move down the social hierarchy, relative levels of stress increase due to increased psychosocial stresses. I found this distinction between stress sources as they relate to social hierarchy surprising and fascinating.
Additionally, I was intrigued by the large scale, international logistics involved in this research operation. The population of baboons being studied is Kenya and monitored by a team of people that analyze social interactions to determine social hierarchy and collect fecal samples for analysis. These samples are sent to Duke and the relative stress levels of the baboons is determined by analyzing cortisol levels. The amount of coordination and cooperation between those in Durham and Kenya is truly remarkable.
I think Christine did a great job in her presentation. I learned a lot about an area of research I know very little about and I’m excited to learn about her findings and their possible implications.