Nearly 50 years of lemur data now available online (w/ Video)

Jul 24, 2014
Blue-eyed black lemurs represent one of the 25 most endangered primates in the world. This infant and his mom are among 27 species of endangered primates at the Duke Lemur Center whose lifelong records are now digitized and available online. Researchers hope the data will help the last blue-eyed black lemurs left in the wild -- now fewer than 7000 -- hold on. Credit: Photo by David Haring

A 48-year archive of life history data for the world's largest and most diverse collection of endangered primates is now digital and available online. The Duke Lemur Center database allows visitors to view and download data for more than 3600 animals representing 27 species of lemurs, lorises and galagos—distant primate cousins who predate monkeys and apes—with more data to be uploaded in the future.

Staff at the center observe and record virtually every aspect of an animal's life from cradle to grave. For each animal they know when it was born, who its parents were, how fast it grew, what it ate, which animals it mated with, how many offspring it had, and when and why it died.

Hiddleston is one of them. Hiddleston is a blue-eyed black lemur, which makes him one of the 25 most endangered primates in the world. Since he was born in March 2013, staff at the Duke Lemur Center have catalogued minute details of his life in their daily logbooks. They know how big he was at birth and when he tried his first solid foods. They monitor his weight and note how he interacts. They even tracked his first attempts to climb a tree.

Hiddleston isn't alone. When primatologist Sarah Zehr first arrived at the Duke Lemur Center in 2007, she found a treasure trove of data about the lives, health and habits and of more than 4000 animals, dating from the center's beginnings in 1966.

The fact that are at risk of dying out makes it unlikely that a collection of similar size will ever be recreated, Zehr said. "Many of these species are critically endangered in the wild, so they're unlikely to be held in captivity again. This means that the data are irreproducible."

The new database contains over 65,000 weight measurements for more than 2100 animals (27 species), taken over each animal's lifespan. Credit: David Haring

Getting at this one-of-a-kind data, however, was a difficult task. Much of the data were locked up in handwritten notebooks or typed paper records. "The downside of the paper records is they're vulnerable, they're not digitized, and we only have a single copy—so they're impossible to analyze," Zehr said.

The center migrated to electronic records in the 1990s, but that still left much of the data buried in odd computer files or hard-to-use databases.

That began to change in 2012, when Zehr and software developers Freda Cameron and the late Richard Roach, formerly of SAS, started working on a project to assemble the information from the various source files and convert it into a single, easily searchable format.

It took them three years to compile and digitize the data and put it online. Visitors to the new database will find birth and death dates for each animal, IDs and ages for its parents, any litter mates or siblings, lifelong weight records, breeding season, gestation length and number of offspring—much of which would be difficult if not impossible to collect at a similar level of detail for lemurs living in the wild.

Users can also find out whether any biological samples are available for an animal. The bank of at the Duke Lemur Center contains nearly 10,000 samples for more than 1000 individuals. It's a modern ark of things like blood, serum, DNA, urine, and small pieces of skin, organs and other tissues—many taken during routine veterinary procedures for diagnostic tests or when an animal dies of natural causes—all preserved in freezers for the future.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

Thanks to the center's captive breeding program the data continue to come in. In the next year they plan to add additional records, such as health and reproductive status, causes of death, behavior, and group size and composition for each animal over time.

The hope is that the data will help institutions better care for lemurs in captivity, and help scientists understand these animals in order to better protect them in the wild.

The database will also allow generations of future researchers to tackle a wide range of questions. Researchers studying aging and longevity, for example, will be able to compare maximum lifespans in captivity for different primate species, and pinpoint cellular and molecular traits that distinguish long-lived primates from short-lived ones.

Explore further: Genome sequences show how lemurs fight infection

More information: The data are available online in the Dryad Digital Repository at DOI: 10.5061/dryad.fj974 and via the Duke Lemur Center website at lemur.duke.edu/duke-lemur-center-database/

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Personality test finds some mouse lemurs shy, others bold

Jun 18, 2013

Anyone who has ever owned a pet will tell you that it has a unique personality. Yet only in the last 10 years has the study of animal personality started to gain ground with behavioral ecologists, said Jennifer ...

Genome sequences show how lemurs fight infection

May 30, 2014

The young lemur named Eugenius started to get sick. Very sick. He was lethargic, losing weight and suffering from diarrhea. Duke Lemur Center veterinarians soon pinpointed the cause of his illness: Eugenius ...

Lemur's evolutionary history may shed light on our own

Feb 25, 2008

After swabbing the cheeks of more than 200 lemurs and related primates to collect their DNA, researchers at the Duke Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy (IGSP) and Duke Lemur Center now have a much clearer ...

Recommended for you

Dogs hear our words and how we say them

6 hours ago

When people hear another person talking to them, they respond not only to what is being said—those consonants and vowels strung together into words and sentences—but also to other features of that speech—the ...

Amazonian shrimps: An underwater world still unknown

7 hours ago

A study reveals how little we know about the Amazonian diversity. Aiming to resolve a scientific debate about the validity of two species of freshwater shrimp described in the first half of the last century, ...

Factors that drive sexual traits

8 hours ago

Many male animals have multiple displays and behaviours to attract females; and often the larger or greater the better.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.