Evergreen Student Research Critical to Saving Three-Toed Sloth

December 14, 2012

Evergreen Student Research to Save Panamanian Three-Toed Sloth Published in International Peer Reviewed Journal

Publication of student work concurrent with undergraduate work is rare

Plos One, an international, open access peer-reviewed journal published work on a rare species of three-toed sloths by recent graduates and a current student of The Evergreen State College. Publication of student work concurrent with undergraduate work is uncommon.

Jakob Shockey of Applegate, Ore., Sam Kaviar of Louisville, Ky., and Peter Sundberg of Bellingham, Wash., worked together to gather population data on the pygmy three-toed sloth, a critically endangered species of sloth on Isla Escudo de Veraguas, Panama.

Since the sloth’s discovery in 2001, very little research has been conducted on the species and the students found it hard to separate fact and rumor.

“Our research is important in painting a more honest and robust picture of the pygmy three-toed sloth's situation and its environmental and human context to the scientific and conservation communities,” Shockey said.

“Our results put the pygmy three-toed sloth’s small population in a category of high concern,” Kaviar commented.

The trio also discovered that previous work conducted on the island resulted in no interaction with the local people, which is necessary to the protection of the species.

“A local member of the indigenous congress pledged to put forward a bid for local protection of Escudo’s mangroves and the sloths, and we have shared a Spanish translation of our work and letter of recommendations for that effort,” Shockey said.

“We did workshops in the local schools and distributed coloring books that fellow student Miranda Ciotti made that featured the endemic species of Escudo,” Kaviar recalled.

One of the students’ professor’s, Heather Heying, noted that doing research, analysis, and writing, under an academic program at the undergraduate level and having it published independently from faculty’s research is rare.

“The two-part focus these three young researchers had on both doing careful, rigorous science, and being respectful of the people who actually live where the sloth lives, is rare indeed,” Heying added.

The island, Isla Escudo de Veraguas, is located 18 miles off the east coast of the Panama and is the only place on Earth where the pygmy three-toed sloth exists. The slow-moving species is dependent on red mangrove trees which take up less than one percent of the island. Local fishermen use the Mangrove trees for cooking fires to supplement the regions booming tourism trade, jeopardizing the sloth’s habitat.

Current student and contributor to the research, Kaviar noted that Evergreen’s unique approach to learning made a project like this come together for them.

“Evergreen helped me hone my powers of logic, and deduction and also gave me the confidence to undertake a study of this kind….we owe it to the sloths, the local people, and ourselves to communicate honestly and openly,” Kaviar added.

A non-profit organization, Plos One is an international, peer-reviewed, open access, online publication.

The article titled, Observations on the Endemic Pygmy Three-Toed Sloth, Bradypuspygmaeus of Isla Escudo de Veraguas, Panama, can be found at http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0049854#s1.