Jan 25

Dr. Sharlene E. Santana photo (c) Dr. Sharlene E. SantanaWith almost 85,000 images available on ARKive for educational and scientific use, we are always pleased when people come up with new and exciting ways to use them. Dr Sharlene Santana is an evolutionary biologist who studies the diversity of mammal anatomy and function. Here, she tells us about her exciting work and how she has been using ARKive images.

Q: We were very excited to learn that you have been using ARKive images in your research! Tell us about your work and what you have discovered.

Thank you! ARKive has been an excellent resource for our recent studies. My latest work has been looking at how the diversity of mammal colors evolved. As you can see just browsing through pictures in ARKive, there is a striking variation in the colors and patterns mammals have, from species that are very dull, to others with spots, stripes and bright colors. Thus far our work has been able to identify several important factors linked to the diversity in color patters in primates and bats. For example, we found that some of the complex color patterns in the faces of New World primates (such as those seen in owl monkeys) evolved in species that live in small groups, while species that live in larger groups have simpler color patterns in their faces (e.g., howler monkeys). We also found that eye masks become darker towards the Equator and East South America, possibly to shield eyes from glare in very sunny environments. Also, in forested areas monkeys have darker noses and tops of their head, possibly to aid in camouflage. In bats, we have found that markings such as stripes likely evolved for camouflage from predators in species that roost in the vegetation.

Q: How did the images on ARKive help you?

The images on ARKive have been very useful to describe the color patterns of many species for which we would have not been able to obtain pictures otherwise. This is because many primate, bat and other mammal species in our studies are endangered, rare, or live in remote areas and thus are very difficult to access. Although we could get some coloration data for these species from descriptions or by looking at captive populations, having images of live, free-ranging animals better allowed us to describe their natural coloration.

Guatemalan black howler photo

An image of a Guatemalan black howler, used in the study

Q: What are you working on now?

Right now we are expanding our study on color patterns to the rest of primates and to carnivores. We want to see if and how their facial and coat patterns have evolved and what factors could be driving their evolution. 

Q: What inspired you to start a career in evolutionary biology?

I grew up in South America, so I was exposed to biodiversity from an early age and always loved animals. When I went to college I realised that what interested me the most was learning about the diversity in animal forms and functions, and that naturally led to going into evolutionary biology to study how this diversity comes about.

Tent making bat photo

The research showed that the markings in some bats evolved as a means of camouflage

Q: How do you think ARKive can help to conserve endangered species?

ARKive can certainly help by creating awareness in the public about how extraordinary and important wildlife is, and by providing comprehensive information about species. Images speak volumes, and I think people connect better with conservation causes if they can see photos and videos of endangered species. On the other hand, this being such a large repository of imagery, it can also help us scientists in producing data that may ultimately prove useful for the conservation of species.

Q: And finally, the most difficult question, do you have a favourite species?

That is a hard question indeed!  I have many favorite species, but if I had to pick one right now I would say the white-throated round-eared bat (Lophostoma silvicolum). These are tropical insect-eating bats that roost inside active termite nests in trees (the males excavate the roosts with their teeth!). I’ve handled these bats a lot and they are not only cute but also very smart.

Bat photo (c) Dr Sharlene E. Santana

Dr Sharlene E. Santana with har favourite species, the white-throated round-eared bat (Lophostoma silvicolum)

Find out more about Dr Sharlene Santana’s work.

Becky Moran, ARKive Species Text Author