Meet Claudio Monteza-Moreno: Graduate Student Melds Biology and Anthropology

Photo of researcher looking at device attached to a tree.
Claudio Monteza-Moreno, a UC Davis animal behavior graduate student, sets a camera trap in Panama. (Photo courtesy Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute)

The story of how Claudio Monteza-Moreno came to UC Davis illustrates how research today often crosses boundaries — reaching across disciplines and around the globe to explore complex problems.

Monteza-Moreno is a graduate student working in the lab of evolutionary anthropologist Meg Crofoot, studying how wildlife in Panama navigate landscapes transformed by humans. However, his background is in biology and he considers himself a behavioral ecologist.

“In essence, I don’t see my work as anthropology,” he said. “However, the species I study, in these landscape mosaics, are heavily interacting with humans. There are several anthropological aspects, particularly from a sociocultural point of view.”

Tracking wildlife on reforested lands

Monteza-Moreno plans to use radio collars and camera traps to track how coati, opossum and other mammals move between tropical forests and reforested areas near the Panama Canal and Panama City. 

The idea for his graduate research came from his experiences participating in a biodiversity inventory on a reforested site in his home country. He led camera trapping work to assess the wildlife species living there.

“Because I was back and forth between gorgeous forests (like Barro Colorado Island or the Gap of Darien forests) and the plantations in the reforested site, I would see massive differences in species abundance, diversity and the dynamic of the mammals.”

Crossing disciplines: 'So much more to look at'   

Monteza-Moreno first met Crofoot in Panama, where he spent five years working as a naturalist guide for the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) on Barro Colorado Island, a wildlife sanctuary. (Crofoot is a research associate with the institute. She studies group movement, decision-making and other collective social behaviors in nonhuman primates.)

“Meg was on my top three list of potential professors [for graduate school],” Monteza-Moreno said. He said UC Davis Animal Behavior was the only graduate program he applied to — in part because of the mild weather and the caliber of UC Davis academics, but mostly because of Crofoot and her graduate students.

UC Davis’ Animal Behavior Graduate Group, while administered by the College of Biological Sciences, draws faculty from across the campus, including several from the psychology and anthropology departments in the College of Letters and Science. The campus graduate group model is widely credited for fostering collaborations across disciplines.

The different disciplinary approaches have broadened the scope of his research, Monteza-Moreno said. “When I came to Davis, I had a simple question,” he said. “How can reforested areas facilitate the movement of animals from forest A to forest B? But now that I’m in Meg's lab, I have realized that there is so much more to look at and so much more that the movement data allows us to learn about mammals.”

— Kathleen Holder, content strategist in the UC Davis College of Letters and Science