Seminar Three- Predators, primates and humans in a landscape of fear.

Professor Russell Hill
Professor Russell Hill.

Today’s seminar was given by Russell Hill he is a behavioural ecologist at Durham University. His main focuses are primarily studies based on primatology, predator-prey interactions and large mammal behaviour.

He runs the Primate and Predator project (PPP) based at Lajuma Research Centre in the Soutpansberg Mountains, Limpopo Province, South Africa. This project was the main focus of his talk today.

The main aims/focus of the project are:

  • Predator prey interactions, focusing on diurnal primates as a prey species and monitoring their behaviours/ interaction with predators.
  • The role mountainous areas play in conservation and the significance of this for biodiversity conservation.
  • Observing how human presence influence the behaviour of the animals and the anthropologenic factors that may affect Soutpanberg’s local ecosystem.

This project is important as while there have been many studies in the past researching predator and prey behaviour, there are a lack of studies that focus on the distinction between lethal and non-lethal effects of predation and how these influence prey behaviour.

So what does that mean?

Lethal impacts: Direct predation, this impacts species survival and population numbers.

Non-lethal impacts: Cost vs benefit of anti predator responses (predator avoidance, alarm calls, higher vigilance) all of these could cause a reduction in energy levels through a limit of time spent foraging, increased energy output. In turn this impacts the individuals and the overall population:

Positives- Decreased risk of predation, less likely to be ambushed, work better as a unit.

Negatives- Lowered reproduction, stress, reduction in productivity.


Video: An example of monkey alarm calls to alert troop to a predator. Credit: Attenborough- The life of mammals. A BBC Earth documentary.

What is a landscape of fear?

The landscape of fear is a theory that explains the reason an animal moves around in their environment in a certain way is linked to predator avoidance strategies and can be altered by predator prey interactions.

Overview of the project

The monkeys observed in the PPP were Vervet monkeys and Samango monkeys.

Alarm calls of both species were analysed and it was found that their calls varied dependent on the area they were in and the type of threat observed e.g. the predators recorded in the study were snakes, eagles and leopards and for each one a different call was recorded.

leopard hunting
Male leopard hunting birds in flight. Credit: Matt Prophet

This different calls alert the group to the level of threat so they could react accordingly- this means that the group won’t have to waste energy reacting to a non-lethal low level threats in the same way as a lethal threat as they are able to differentiate between the two calls.

The results of the study showed that the Vervet and Samango monkeys experienced different landscapes of fear.

Vervet monkey facts

For the Vervet monkeys fear responses were primarily found to be exhibited in response to the presence of leopards, this was expected as leopards commonly prey on the Vervet monkeys- they exhibited this behaviour through predator avoidance in areas were leopards were spotted.

Vervet monkeys. Credit: The Human Evolution Blog

However the pattern of predator avoidance through spacial changes were not shown for eagles or snake whom are also predatory of the monkeys.

Similar to the Vervet monkeys, the Samango monkeys were more responsive to a certain species in this case the presence of eagle evoked the biggest behavioural changes.

samango monkey
Samango monkey. Credit: Wilkinson’s World

Samango monkey facts

This research aligns with the natural behaviours of the species and their habitat preferences, Vervet monkeys are semi-terrestrial so there for the leopards are seen as a bigger threat than the eagles which are a greater threat to the arboreal Samango monkeys.

When humans were present the monkeys range increased, some forging in lower tree branches and others further out of cover than when humans are not present.

This could be linked to humans being a deterrent to predators as well as the humans also acting as an early warning signal.

My opinion

These studies are extremely important for the future of conservation. Understanding the behavioural interactions within an ecosystem allows us to better conserve the area as a whole. I think that it’s clear to see the monkeys are extremely intelligent and are able to adapt their behaviours to allow the the greatest chance of survival in any given situation.

Has this affected my future plans?

I found the seminar very interesting even though primatology is not an area I have much experience with. I feel that gaining a better understanding of this subject area and the behaviour of primates could help me develop my skills in the field of conservation.

Further reading:

Newly published article in the Royal open science journal: Population dynamics and threats to an apex predator outside protected areas: implications for carnivore management

There is a blog running about the Predator and prey project, they post regular updates so if you want to know more please click here.


Workshop One- Assessment centre

This workshop follow straight on from the Career’s cafe- it was great to get the chance to have a mock interview right after being inspired by the speakers at the career’s cafe!

First of all we got split into groups of 4, we took it in turns to play the interview panel and the interviewee.

How do you stand out in a crowd of outstanding people? Credit: Red WigWam

At first it was quite intimidating, I didn’t know the people in my group and they all seemed very confident with comments like “This is going to be easy” and “I’ve done this so many times”.

As someone with minimal experience of interviews I hoped taking this module would help to boost my confidence.

We were given secret sets of questions to ask the interviewee, a few examples of questions are:

  • Why did you choose your dissertation?
  • What is your greatest achievement?
  • Talk about your experience

After we answered the questions we were sent out of the room and the rest of the group “the interviewers” would mark you on your performance- this was based on what you sad, how you said it, interaction with the interviewers and body language.

Video: How to ace your interview! Credit: Aaron Marino

As I said before, the rest of my group were extremely good at explaining themselves and keeping their cool under pressure, but me… not so much. I some how managed to ramble on and say nothing at the same time!

Need help getting a job click here.

Beblin test

The second part of the workshop was the Beblin test/self perception inventory.

We were given three worksheets to assist us with this.

The first had seven sections, Each section had a question e.g. What I believe I contribute to a team” and then a set of answers ordered with letters a-h, we were asked to put ten point by the letters we felt answered the question for us.

After filling out each section we tallied up the points in a table to see what letter we had the most of for each question and input this into another table which told us what team role is best suited to us.

team roles

The third sheet explained each role, I got the role Team worker which after reading the description seems to fit me well.

My opinion

I feel the interview were beneficial however I feel we should have had mock-mock interviews to prepare us as some people had an unfair advantage and this was a graded assessment.

I feel the belbins test is quite accurate for me at least. However I believe it could be easily shaped by the interviewee to give a certain answer so it’s not going to be accurate without honesty.

Has this affected my future career plans?

This has affected my future plans as I now know the areas that need improvement and I will in future do a few practices before a real interview!


Seminar Two- Growing one’s way out of poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa, feasible or not?

Dr Dave Harris
Dr Dave Harris.

Today’s seminar was given by Dave Harris he is a senior researcher in the SENRGY department at Bangor University.

He also works at the World Agroforestry Centre, Nairobi the main area he works in is the Sentinel Landscapes project, this a global project based at multiple site. They measure the interactions between people and rural landscapes.

The seminar’s main themes as the title suggests were land management, and technological advances in agriculture as a means to reduce poverty and the importance of these advances in agriculture for the people of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Farming one acre fund credit
This is Anne, a farmer in rural Kenya. She is supported by the One Acre Fund organization.

The accepted poverty line in Sub-Saharan Africa is currently set at $1.90 PDI.

5 poverty stats on Sub-Saharan Africa

Linking farming productivity and reduced poverty makes sense to most people at face value as if people have a way to support themselves financially, whilst also allowing them to feed their families then poverty in the area is going to decrease as a result.

However in rural Africa rainfall is an issue, if they don’t get enough rainfall their crops die out and so does any money invested into those crops therefore farming is seen as a risky business and many people are put off by this.

Dave Harris encourages local people to make use of the land they have.

Over 200 million hectares of unfarmed land is located in Sub-Saharan Africa, that’s almost half of all the unfarmed land in the world! Credit: Fotolia/cronopio

If rural farming households were to invest in agricultural technologies would the benefits out weight the costs? Dr Harris suggested that while there would be benefits they would only be minimal and not enough to breakthrough the poverty line.

This brings us to the conclusion that families are unlikely to be able to “grow themselves out of poverty” but they could still benefit from using any land that they have for farming purposes in order to help educate their children on farming and to help support themselves on a small scale.

My Opinion

My opinion on this is with the work of projects like the One Acre Fund and the commitment of local people it could be possible to make a difference, maybe not on a national scale but at least on a local scale.

It’s however extremely unfortunate that this depends on families having the land, time to commit to farming and the initial start up funds as well as the right weather conditions.

Hopefully in the future the climate will improve and have more favourable conditions for this to be a sustainable solution to poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Has this affected my future plans?

This seminar has opened up my mind to the possibilities of research projects in developing countries and the affects they can have on major issues.

I am now more aware of the issues that countries re facing around the globe and I will be following the work of groups like One Acre Fund as well as keeping up to date with new research in this area.

farming standing one
To follow Anne’s story click here.

Seminar One- Simplicity on the other side of complexity.

This is my first post about the Life and Environment seminars I have attended at Bangor University, I will also be writing posts on several others so keep checking my blog for updates!

Professor Guy Woodward

Today’s talk was given by Dr Guy Woodward he is a Professor at Imperial college, London. He gained his PhD from Queen Mary’s in Freshwater Ecology and he is currently the editor for Advances in ecological research journal. He works with DURESS (Diversity in Upland Rivers for Ecosystem Service Sustainability).

Photo source: Dr Guy Woodward.

The seminar began with an introduction into the importance of understanding freshwater ecosystems. He then explained that freshwater ecosystems are a very valuable resource and provider of biodiversity.

But due to them being very complex and sensitive ecosystems, they are under threat. There are many stresses and pressures attributing to this such as; Pollution, flooding, land management methods and near by land uses.

We were told of the effects of introduction and removal of key species- such as trout and salmon, he explained that these changes were a key contributor to the overall health of a freshwater ecosystem. Dr Woodward then proceeded to go into more detail about freshwater food webs, similar to those featured in the image below.Food web

Figure: Example of a freshwater food web. Credit: Federal interagency stream restoration working group (1998).

Dr Woodward presented research by the DURESS project to support his seminar and to help us form our own conclusions, this allowed us to gain more insight into both his work and the project itself.

One of the talks main points was that we need to be able to understand how an ecosystem functions to allow us to fully understand the possible future and current affects climate change may have on them.

This could then allow us to take adequate precautions to minimize these impacts or to help an ecosystem restore itself after these events.

My opinion

Dr Woodward gave a very engaging and informative seminar and after listening to him talk about freshwater ecosystems with such energy I feel like my mind has become far more open to thinking about not just direct affecting factors of ecosystems but I feel I have more of an awareness of indirect factors too.

After this seminar I will no longer look at a stream as just a stream- they are havens buzzing with life! And I will definitely think more about the indirect effects that I have on the environment.

Has this affected my future plans?

Yes, but not in a massive career changing way. I will be more conscious of a companies view on things like sustainability and land use management especially when the surrounding areas have ecosystems that could be affected.

Also I would be open to working on a project to conserve freshwater species/ecosystems, whereas previously i hadn’t thought of this as a career option.

Welcome post

Welcome to the blog of a Zoology student.

Greetings fellow curious minds!

Welcome to my blog, make yourself at home. Feel free to leave comments and ask me questions, I will do my best to respond promptly.

The purpose of this blog is to allow me to self reflect and to summarise the seminars I attend and the workshops I participate in as a part of my Bio-enterprise and Employablity module so it is available to others.

It also assists me in passing this module- so thank you for your support!

I will use this blog as a tool to express my thoughts and experiences of the various seminars and workshops I attend during Third year at Bangor university.

All opinions stated on this blog are my own.