Madagascar carnivores are focus of National Science Foundation-funded student research
Brian Gerber of Amherst, Mass., a graduate student in the Virginia Tech College of Natural Resources, has combined his passions for travel and for doing wildlife research by being a wildlife research technician in such locales as Thailand, Angola, South Africa, and across the United States.
Now, with a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, the master’s degree candidate in fisheries and wildlife sciences will be leading his own research project -- studying carnivores in Madagascar. The fellowship provides three years of funding support to graduate students in program disciplines relevant to the mission of the National Science Foundation.
Gerber’s travels began before he became an undergraduate at the University of Massachusetts. “I went to East Africa and I was hooked,” he said. “I tried to get back every summer.” But research in Africa is expensive, so since receiving his bachelor’s degree in 2000, he and his wife, Belita Marine, also a wildlife research technician, have been working on projects in the United States as well, monitoring carnivores in the Sierras; wolfs, coyotes, and foxes in Yellowstone; and bats in Maine, for instance. “Living in remote areas and getting paid, or at least having your expenses paid, is what we loved to do,” Gerber said.
“But it’s time to go to the next level of research,” he said.
At Virginia Tech, he has been a graduate teaching assistant since fall 2007, worked with Sarah Karpanty, assistant professor of fisheries and wildlife sciences, doing research on Virginia Barrier Islands Shorebirds, received a Sigma Xi grant, and now his activities and a perfect grade point average since 2007 have earned him the prestigious National Science Foundation research fellowship.
Gerber will study the habitat and population of carnivores in Madagascar, where Karpanty also does research. He will spend six months in Madagascar this year, using trail cameras to research habitat preferences and estimate populations of four carnivores: fossa, Malagasy civet, ring-tailed mongoose, and broad-striped mongoose. Little is currently known about these carnivores, which often prey on lemurs, in Madagascar’s rainforest habitat. “Working in a rainforest is challenging, and Madagascar has very steep terrain. Lemur research has spanned decades, but carnivores are more difficult. They are rare or elusive or both. We don’t have good numbers and if we are going to conserve these animals, we need the numbers,” he said.
He will be based at the international research station, Centrel Valbio, and Ranamofana National Park and will coordinate with another Virginia Tech graduate student, Mary Kotschwar, who is studying anti-predator behavior of lemurs in the same area.
Although the son of Phyllis and John Gerber is from an academic family and wants to do academic research, particularly to teach at some point in his future, Brian Gerber said it is too early in his master’s studies to commit to a Ph.D. program. “I might take time off again. But a career in wildlife is definitely my goal.”