Palis, Phillips Examine Conservation Genetics of Bioko Primates

By Purnell T. Cropper | February 26, 2010

By Sarah Schwartz ’10


Biology major Rachel Palis ’10 has spent the past three years of her undergraduate career examining conservation efforts of primates on Bioko Island under the direction of Dr. Naomi Phillips, Assistant Professor of Biology. This research has allowed her to expand her skills and prepare her for life after graduation.

Palis, along with Brittany Koza ’11, Chris Lewandowski and Phillips, are working in conjunction with the Bioko Biodiversity Protection Program (BBPP) to aid conservation efforts on Bioko Island, which is part of Equatorial Guinea. Located off the western coast of Africa, Bioko has a higher density of endangered primates than anywhere else in Africa. In the last 20 years, the rare primate population has decreased dramatically due to commercial shotgun hunting for the luxury bushmeat market in Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea.

Through genetic testing, Palis’ aim is to show whether or not these species are endemic to the region and learn about past introduction events. Comparing the number of CA repeats in their genotyping results, Palis is hoping to determine the overall genetic diversity in the populations as compared to their mainland Equatorial Guinea counterparts.

Though the research is time-consuming and can be frustrating, Palis says that it’s a rewarding experience and great addition to her résumé. “You get to use skills that you’ve only learned once in class, but after doing these things constantly every single day, it becomes natural,” she says. “You don’t have to think twice about it. These are skills I’ll use in the future and put me one step ahead of the rest.

“Luckily Arcadia is a small school so we do have access to research facilities,” she says. “I’d definitely suggest doing extra research with a faculty member. It is a lot of time but it pays off, and you make a lot of great connections with professors.”

Palis has been abroad twice, experiencing Arcadia’s First Year Study Abroad Experience (FYSAE) in Stirling Scotland in Spring 2007 as well as the Sydney Semester Internship, offered through Arcadia’s College of Global Studies  in Sydney, Australia, in Spring 2009. While in Australia, she conducted an independent research project to determine the longevity (lifespan) of the captive adult Cairns Bird-wing butterfly at Sydney Wildlife World (the zoo that she interned at) through a mark-recapture method. I compared the lifespan of the Cairns Bird-wing at the Sydney Wildlife World zoo exhibit to lifespan of the same butterfly at the Melbourne Zoo butterfly house.

For more about the BBPP, visit