Student Profile

Andrea Presotto

Geographers have long considered the ability of people to engage in cognitive mapping and route networks for navigation, but UGA geographers have been examining the ability of animals to engage in spatial navigation. Geography doctoral student Andrea Presotto, with the guidance of major professor Marguerite Madden, is examining elephants’ pattern of orientation in Kruger National Park, South Africa.

The route network is a mechanism of orientation used by many animals, including humans. Route network system encompasses the use of repeated sections of paths, junctions of routes, and by using route networks animals do not travel farther from the network system. It is a less demanding mechanism when compared with the so-called cognitive maps, where animals have knowledge of distance and direction to their goal. Different species vary in the type of information they use according to ecological pressure they face in the wild. Also, the landscape may determine how the animals define their orientation, with some species combining more than one form of navigation. Elephants are ideal subjects to study because they share demographic traits with humans, such as their age of sexual maturity, long gestation periods, single offspring, low death rate, and high longevity.

Andrea’s study is to understand if spatial navigation is also a characteristic that African elephants share with humans. This study is using GPS location of four female elephants in Kruger National Park, South Africa, through GIS and remote sensing analysis.

The preliminary results show individual differences when traveling: females that travel far from their familiar area or most used areas more often repeated paths than the females that stay in their familiar area. Andrea’s findings suggest that the studied female elephants use route network in unfamiliar areas, but they seem to navigate using cognitive maps in familiar areas.

Just like humans, African elephants seem to combine two mechanisms to navigate – the cognitive maps when they have knowledge about the resource location and the route network system in areas they use less often.

Alana Shaw

The proposed offshore drilling program in the Chukchi Sea has created an international debate over this type of environmentally risky development and in doing so it has raised a much broader suite of concerns regarding how a changing Arctic should be managed for the future in a culturally inclusive and socially just manner. In order to more deeply examine the many facets of this issue, Alana Shaw, a doctoral student in UGA’s Integrative Conservation and Geography degree program, has pursued her doctoral research in the Native Village of Wainwright, AK. Alana is completing her degree with major professor Hilda Kurtz.

In her work, Alana has argued that the decision-making structures guiding this development have been dominated by the perspectives and values of outside authorities and business interests in ways that have precluded the Iñupiat’s full participation in these processes. This means that the subsistence concerns raised by the Iñupiat of Alaska’s North Slope have largely remain unaddressed due to an ongoing inability on the part of the U.S. government to meaningfully engage with cultural difference and other ways of knowing.

Alana’s research was conducted over the span of three field seasons and was pursued in collaboration with the Wainwright Traditional Council, which acts as the village’s tribal representation. A number of qualitative research methods were employed including semi-structured interviews with tribal leaders and village elders and focus group conversations with Wainwright residents. These methods were largely designed to elicit the full spectrum of community opinions and perspectives regarding this new era of impending change and to more fully elucidate how tribal members themselves hoped to maintain the delicate balance between the needs and values encoded in their traditional subsistence lifestyle with their well-founded desire for local economic growth and development.

In addition, Alana was able to act as a participant observer at a number of communal subsistence events that notably included the landing of Wainwright’s three fall bowhead whales in 2013 and the final whale of their traditional spring whaling season in 2014. Alana also conducted photo-based interviews as part of her particular research focus on the culturally unique ways that the Iñupiat conceptualize their relationships with “nature.” Alana’s goal is to see this information used to help foster a better understanding of subsistence as a distinctive way of life that is profoundly relevant to the Iñupiat of Wainwright’s identities as Arctic peoples. She also believes that these perspectives ultimately provide the cultural context necessary for a much deeper engagement with Iñupiaq traditional knowledge, which is endowed with its true meaning and power by these worldviews and lifeways. Overall, Alana’s research is premised on the belief that such understandings can facilitate much more equitable and productive forms of cross-cultural dialogue, which will ideally allow us as a nation to collectively craft a vision for the Arctic that honors the core values and reflects the contemporary desires of its original peoples.