Monkey Forest Tales: Why is important a good, detailed database when studying monkey behavior?

As a mention in my last post, while working with my own and other databases I had the opportunity to reflect a lot about data, but also about how we store that data. So, in today’s post, we are going to talk about databases and why is important to make good and detailed databases. This can be applied to working with other groups and in different topics, but we will focus on monkeys because it is what this blog is about.

As mentioned before, when I started, I was trained as a naturalist, which means that I was trained to collect a lot of detailed data in notebooks. However, after coming back from fieldwork, all that data needs to be stored in a more practical way and with the introduction of computers, in a way that allow us to make multiple and different types of analysis. Remember I’m from the generation that started to use computers when I was in the university, not primary school, plus during my first ever fieldwork with red howler monkeys back in 1995, computers were not widely available as they are today. So, I must learn to use databases or excel spreadsheet when it was at its beginnings, and it took me a lot of time to understand all the tools that it has.

It was also not always easy to learn how much detail was good enough to make analysis and how to put all detailed data in a way that will allow me to filter by specific features and extract only what I was going to use for the analysis. Over the years I had tried to teach my own students about how important is that they do a good database, so they can extract data easily if new questions arise when they are analyzing their data or if they see patterns that can be good to explore in their data. Unfortunately, this has not been so easily to achieve, and they just introduce the data they use for analysis.

A good and detailed data is particularly important when you survey an area for several years and look at different data over those years, it will make easy to extract the data useful for questions using data from multiple years and multiple sites. Especially, if you are interested in temporal or spatial data associated to behavioral or ecological data of multiple species. Databases can make you analysis more practical and you can store data in compact way and in multiple sites without having to go back to your field notebooks very often. It can also help you associate information from other resources collected while doing behavioral and ecological studies. So, the best advise I can give if you are starting your career is to take time and make a good and detailed database that you can feed over years and allows you to explore more complex questions over time…

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