Sunday, November 14, 2010

Meet Team Marmot: Jenn Smith

I'm a new postdoctoral fellow in the lab. In my previous life, I was a graduate student in Kay Holekamp's lab at Michigan State University where I studied cooperation among spotted hyenas. The Holekamp lab also maintains a blog about all of our adventures in Africa.

I now study maternal effects in yellow-bellied marmots. Check out my website to read more about this research.

As most of you know, mothers matter. They shape who we are and these effects can have long-lasting consequences even as we enter adulthood.

I predict that these long-term effects should also matter for marmots and am asking how mothers shape the behavior and condition of these animals. We now possess a long-term data set which spans 25 generations, so we can easily track the genetic and non-genetic effects of mothers on their kids.

Maternal effects in marmots should be particularly interesting because (unlike the vast majority of mammals, but much like humans and gorillas), female marmots are free to permanently leave (disperse from) their home groups. Because of this, some female marmots spend their adult lives with their mothers, while others live away from moms.

I am asking how maternal presence shape
s social network traits. Yes, marmots have their own versions of facebook! They "friend" each other using a series of friendly behaviors including greetings, grooming, and sitting in close proximity of each other. Below is an image of two marmots greeting (a.k.a. "friending each other"). Over time, these friendly interactions form the basis of marmot social networks (Photo by Raquel Monclus).

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