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Smithsonian Publishes Research by CC Student, Professor

An article in the African Journal of Ecology co-authored by Brooke Davis '16 and Professor of Organismal Biology and Ecology Jim Ebersole caught the eye of Australian freelance science writer Karl Gruber. Gruber followed up with them via email from Perth, wrote about their research, and sold the story to Smithsonian.com where it was published earlier this month.

"Impalas Hang Out With Baboons for Sausage Fruits and Safety" notes that the study conducted by Davis and Ebersole "is the first to provide solid data for an association between impalas and baboons that was originally noted more than 50 years ago," when researchers observed impalas eating seedpods and fruits dropped by baboons. At the time, the relationship between the Tanzanian duo was thought to be a casual affair, Gruber writes.

Davis, a 2015 Barry Goldwater Scholar and organismal biology and ecology major at Colorado College, spent October and November of 2014 in the Tarangire National Park in Tanzania, conducting research on an Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM) program directed by Ebersole. Their research showed that the impalas have learned to shadow the baboons to find food and to take advantage of the extra sets of eyes looking for predators in the savannah.

"When I started my research in Tanzania, I not only noticed that impala and baboons were spending a lot of time together, but the impala were also actively following the baboons," Davis said. She notes that their association is not only about food; based on their behavior, it appears that the impalas feel safer when the baboons are around. "When impalas were with baboons, they spent about half as much time with their heads up looking around as they did when baboons were not present," she said.

The findings highlight the importance of looking at subtle relationships in the animal kingdom, said Ebersole. "We know a fair bit about how predators affect prey and how directly-competing species influence each other, but we do not know enough about more subtle interactions such as this one. We hope that our study contributes to raising awareness of the importance of looking for and studying these types of relationships," he said.

The Smithsonian article includes photos and video by Davis, a film studies minor. The African Journal of Ecology is a quarterly scientific journal focused on the ecology and conservation of the animals and plants of Africa, published by Blackwell Publishing in association with the East African Wildlife Society. Davis and Ebersole's research is available online, with the printed version due out soon.

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