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Kathleen Reinhardt is originally from the United States. She joined Oxford Brookes as a research student in February 2015 and her thesis title is ‘Ecophysiology of the Javan slow loris (Nycticebus javanicus)’.
I first learned about Oxford Brookes University from my undergraduate professors in the US. Finishing my degree in Anthropology, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in the subfield of primatology with a conservation focus, and so, my professors directed me towards the Primate Conservation MSc programme. While enrolled in the MSc programme, I got to know the department and staff quite well, only further encouraging my interests in pursuing a PhD with Oxford Brookes University.
I was attracted to Brookes by the staff and students involved with the Primate Conservation MSc, as well as the Nocturnal Primate Research Group. The researchers involved in these groups inspired me in their expertise and accomplishments, and how they regularly applied their research to conservation efforts for endangered primate species and their natural habitats.
Before coming to Oxford Brookes University, I was working as a Field Research Assistant for the Lomas Barbudales Monkey Project, recording daily social behaviours of white-faced capuchins (Cebus capucinus) in Costa Rica. From there, I hopped across the pond to undertake the MSc programme in Primate Conservation. During this time, I expressed my interests in continuing in academia, and the professors and staff encouraged and supported me in applying for a studentship to remain with the department for my PhD research.
I found the transition into my PhD to be almost seamless. The entire staff and department were more than supportive from the beginning - I always felt comfortable asking anyone for assistance, even those not involved in my project!
The synthetic goal of my research is to bridge the gaps in knowledge and understanding of wild animal ecophysiology using least invasive bio logging methods. This research predominantly focused on ecophysiology of a wild animal population, and how environmental changes influence their behavioural and physiological responses. While research in animal physiology has progressed over the past few decades, these have predominantly been conducted in controlled laboratory environments. While laboratory conditions allow us to control and test the physiological parameters and responses of an animal to specific variable changes, it does not allow us to observe and measure physiological responses to the many environmental changes that may occur in the wild, at varying times and degrees. In order to understand fully the complexity of an organism’s overall physiology, field experiments are essential to compare previous research conducted in laboratories. Using biologging equipment, I monitored physiological parameters of a population of Javan slow lorises (Nycticebus javanicus) in West Java, Indonesia in collaboration with the Little Fireface Project. I focused on thermal ecology, sleep-wake patterns and pollination-ecology and foraging behaviour to test theories of primate evolution and energetics.
My doctoral research at Oxford Brookes University reflects interdisciplinary approaches, using least-invasive biologging methods in field biology, primatology, and conservation physiology.
Specific characteristics of sleep reflect its numerous functions for the brain and overall physiology, overweighing the risks and disadvantages associated with time spent in sleep. Numerous laboratory studies suggest that sleep is homeostatically regulated. From the evolutionary ecology viewpoint, sleep evolved not only to cope with immediate intrinsic homeostatic needs, but also as a response to predictable and unpredictable environmental conditions. Therefore, it is natural to assume that the well-known phenotypic variability and flexibility in sleep patterns between and across species reflects the fact that it evolved in conjunction with species adapting to their habitat.
My research is based on multi-day monitoring of slow lorises (Nycticebus javanicus) in their natural habitat, using biologging methodology. It has thus far provided a detailed account on sleep architecture in this species, highlighting the crucial importance of the environment in shaping of sleep in a natural setting. Slow lorises represent basal phylogeny (an early-branching clade where baseline expression of traits derived) in the Order Primates. Thus, understanding the sleep patterns of slow lorises provide a window into the evolutionary path (through phylogenetic inertia) of sleep in humans.
Another aspect of my research focuses on the interplay between ecophysiology and feeding/foraging behavior of non-human primates. I have been examining slow lorises as a model to understand feeding ecology in the contexts of primate origins, energetics and ethnoprimatology. This field research is conducted as part of a long-term study with the Little Fireface Project and Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM) in Java, Indonesia.
This research was the first study to measure sleep in a wild nocturnal primate, as well as the first to show daily torpor use in a wild Asian primate, the Javan slow loris (Nycticebus javanicus). My dissertation work emphasised the importance of studying physiology in the wild, suggesting an intriguing possibility that some of our basic notions about sleep and basic physiological responses obtained in the lab may not hold in the natural habitat where environmental conditions are not stable.
Being a research student allows me to ask my own questions, and then find the answers using detailed data. To me, there is nothing more rewarding or stimulating than that. Being in an academic environment, I feel supported by like-minded peers and staff, who help me to grow and develop my skills and scientific integrity towards effective research. Whenever I feel I have hit a speed-bump or side-tangent with my work, I can always go to these people (with a diverse array of expertise!) for help or advice, to keep me focused on the big picture of my specific research.
Since beginning my PhD, I have regularly taken advantage of the various research training sessions and workshops offered to postgraduate researchers at Oxford Brookes University. In particular, I feel I most valued the teaching courses made available to me throughout my degree. These courses have not only supported me through my research development and completion, but have prepared me for my future career options, should I pursue teaching in higher education.
I am currently finishing my thesis and will soon be defending in the coming months. After this, I aim to submit my various chapters of research for publication in peer-reviewed scientific journals while pursuing research and teaching. I hope to continue with my research in understanding the physiological of wild animals in response to changing environments, and applying my research to evidence-based conservation management and policy planning. As my PhD research took place in a human-populated agricultural landscape, it also taught me the importance of human involvement and the impact that appreciation of nature and its wildlife can play in conservation management. Due to this, I hope to use my skills for teaching children and adults about wildlife, or possibly get involved in the outdoor industry.