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Laura K. Marsh, Ph.D. printer.gif

Laura K. Marsh, Ph.D.
Director
Global Conservation Institute

Laura is a rainforest expert who specializes in Primates. She has spent alot of time tromping around in rainforest looking for critters, and she is anxious to answer your questions!

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1. Describe how you use science in your job.

Science has been a part of my life since I could speak. Any curiosity ultimately leads to a science question, no matter what it is about. On a daily basis as a tropical ecologist, I am working on issues having to do with primate and habitat conservation. Currently, I am publishing on the revision of the taxonomy for the Pithecia (saki monkey) group based on my recognizing a new species at the field site Tiputini Biodiversity Station, Ecuador, where I work. From there, I have been adding new species from museums and other field surveys to the point where we now have at least 5 new species and 8 revisions (elevating subspecies to species or "bringing back" species names that were somehow dropped).

2. How did you get interested in science?

I think it was because I never liked people much and could really relate to animals and plants. Mind you, I only had one dog (a Keeshound) and lived in Long Beach CA--completely surrounded by cement. But I loved the little fringe of flowers and jade plants along the driveway that harbored insects and moths. I would pretend I was a bug for hours and I had a "lab" in the garage where I "experimented" (okay, I made Frankenstein bugs. For instance, grasshoppers freaked me out because they were so unpredictable in their movements, so I glued wings of butterflies to their backs to see if that would make them fly smoother. Everyone died. My first hypothesis and failure!). My grandmother was a fan of the "snail races" my sister and I played because it meant getting the snails out of her garden. We occasionally had horny toads as well--I think they are now long gone from Southern California at this point.

My father was also a Jr. ornithologist. An optometrist by trade, he loved going birding and started taking me once I could walk. I wore binos that were about half my body size and I memorized the bird book (because they were pretty). I remember being about 7 and blurting out names of birds we would see when I had never seen them before. My dad (a linebacker sized guy--6'1", 280 lbs, 19" biceps) would frown down at me and quietly look it up, and declare, "Well, I'll be!"

Monkeys came much later. I had announced early on I was to become a "Bug Doctor," so my dad translated that to "vet" and gave me a Merck Manual, 4th Ed. for my 14th b-day. I read it cover to cover, over and over (I still know how to properly bury a dead cow). But there was something much cooler about being outside and not inside with sick animals. I never liked monkeys much (unpredictable like grasshoppers and smarter than me), but when I was 18 my mom sent me (by myself) to the tropics with University Research Exploration Program out of UC Berkeley as a graduation present. I went to Panama to study tamarins, and I was hooked.

3. What do you like to do with your free time?

Answer surveys...no wait! I mean read comic books (I own a comic book shop in Santa Fe: www.true-believers.com), write movie scripts (my other job actually), throw dinner parties, snowboard, hike with my dogs, watch movies, and listen to musicals.

4. Have you ever been to the Amazon. If not, what would you be most excited to see or do?

My life is the Amazon these days. My last trip was last March/April--a research expedition with colleagues from the US and Mexico to study one of the saki monkeys that was confusing everyone (insert way long story here). We stayed in a bush camp: bojillos with thatched roofs and wooden floors for our tents, and a nice kitchen area (tarps and a handmade table) and a local Quichua family helped us out (friends and colleagues of mine). We had a lovely pit toilet (Papa Navarez made it special for women!) and a clear stream to bathe in. I love bush camps and working by candlelight--my co-workers got a little buggy though. We lived there only 2 weeks (after 2 weeks elsewhere in Ecuador)--short compared to some of my trips.

5. What do you do to prevent global climate change?

I was a Climate Change educator for the Department of Education for 4 years while I was a scientist for Los Alamos National Laboratory. I created a project on elder knowledge where we helped develop curriculum and did teacher training for K-12 based not only on the science of Climate Change, but on what elders saw happening since they were very young. I worked in the Arctic (North Slope, AK), Papua New Guinea (Port Moresby and Manus), the Republic of Nauru, Australia, and Oklahoma (where the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) project had equipment. It is amazing to watch the permafrost melt and to see polar bears stranded and starving. CC is real and has been a frightening prospect for me for years.

What I do personally is everything I can--we car pool or use only 1 car per week, we recycle everything we can (even from the comic book shop), we do not use any chemicals that could volatilize. And I continue to work with indigenous people around the world on issues like not mining oil in the Amazon and pollution issues in Kenya (where I have extended family).

6. If you were coming along on the Trans-Amazon Expedition what is one thing that you couldn't live without?

First, I would probably be leading it :). But absolutely, without a doubt the only thing one needs (if one is not a sissy) is: a machete. Assuming someone brought a hammock so you are not completely covered in ants by dawn, then a machete is the only other thing you need. It is food, firewood (and fire), shelter, shovel, medicine collector,a path maker, spear maker, bridge builder, and protection. Oh, and bringing a local Indian guy who really knows how to use it means you won't die!

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