Stony Brook University PhD candidate Elise Lauterbur spent the day in the small unprotected rainforest of Ambatolahidimy on Jan. 8, 2016 to collect samples for her research on the three species of bamboo lemurs that are found in Madagascar.
Lauterbur has been studying bamboo lemurs under Patricia Wright, PhD, and Liliana Dávalos, PhD, for two years.
“My research is to find out how bamboo lemurs tolerate the very large amounts of cyanide that’s naturally found in the bamboo they eat,” Lauterbur explained. “The Golden Bamboo Lemur and the Greater Bamboo Lemur have both been shown to ingest very large amounts of cyanide. In the case of the Golden Bamboo Lemur, it’s at least twelve times the amount of cyanide that would kill any other mammal of a similar size,” she continued. “We don’t know how they manage to survive this, and that’s what my research is to find out.”
In order to conduct this research, Lauterbur needs to collect urine samples from as many individual bamboo lemurs as possible. Analysis of the urine may reveal some biological processes that let the lemurs survive the consumption of cyanide.
To collect these samples, Lauterbur is accompanied into the forest by Centre ValBio research technicians Velo and Jean Claude to find the lemurs. The two guides have been observing the lemurs in this forest frequently, so they know where the groups are normally found. They can also track down the lemurs by looking for “lemur trash,” which is the part of the bamboo that the lemurs discard after eating. Once they locate the group of Golden Bamboo Lemurs sleeping in a tree, Lauterbur and her intern, Scott Kahl, sit down and wait for the lemurs to wake up.
After a few hours, the lemurs wake up, and the team follows them deeper into the forest and observes their behaviors. Kahl, a senior biology major at Stony Brook University, is looking for one behavior in particular: eating dirt. “It’s possible that they would be eating it [the dirt] for some kind of nutritional value for dealing with the cyanide in the bamboo,” Kahl explains.
Lauterbur places herself underneath the lemur with a funnel and tube apparatus and waits to catch its urine. The sample has to be frozen as soon as possible so she can transport it back to her lab in the United States for analysis.
Lauterbur has collected 16 samples during the past two weeks, and she is staying at CVB until March.