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Grant to Support Animal Communication Research

Posted: July 31, 2013

Sarah PartanThe John T. and Jane A. Wiederhold Foundation has awarded a grant of $10,000 to Hampshire College to support research into the role of environmental change in the evolution of animal communication.

The project, called The Role of the Environment in the Evolution of Multimodal Animal Communication in the Eastern Gray Squirrel, will be led by Associate Professor of Animal Science Sarah Partan. The goal is to collect data on signaling behavior and coat color of Eastern gray squirrels in urban and rural habitats in western Massachusetts. By using robotic squirrels and video cameras to capture raw data, the Hampshire research team will try to determine if natural signaling behavior like tail flicking and alarm calling differs between habitats or between squirrels of different coat colors.

While this project can provide valuable information about Eastern Gray Squirrel behavior in particular, it also provides a localized contribution to the global effort to understand how animals adapt to changing habitats. It could also possibly help communities learn how to mitigate the effects of the environmental changes humans have on biodiversity.

The funding through the John T. and Jane A. Wiederhold Foundation provides an opportunity to do two years of field-based, community-engaged research on the project, and allows Professor Partan to provide stipends for two undergraduate researchers each year. Those undergraduates, in turn, will work with elementary school students, who will be trained in observation methods and simple data collection. This will take place at both Hampshire and the Hitchcock Center for the Environment, an independent, nonprofit environmental learning center that will soon be moving to the Hampshire campus.

Hampshire College will provide in-kind support through the use of classrooms and labs, transportation, and related project support to participating students through internal research grants.

The John T. and Jane A. Wiederhold Foundation was established in 1998 through a gift from John T. and Jane A. Wiederhold. The Foundation is committed to bettering the lives of domesticated and undomesticated animals, including supporting the efforts of animal rescue and land conservation organizations and advances in veterinary medicine. The Wiederhold Foundation is a supporting organization of The Community Foundation of Northwest Connecticut.

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