Changes in NSF Funding Priorities Threaten Viability of Long-term Field Sites

2013 has been a harrowing year for all researchers working at long-term field sites in primatology due to changes in government funding priorities. In the heyday of long-term field research in primatology, both NIH and NSF were the primary supporters of such research. Several years ago, NIH stopped funding research on healthy animals in their natural environments in order to focus more exclusively on biomedical models of human diseases, but until recently, NSF’s Animal Behavior, Biological Anthropology and Long-Term Research in Environmental Biology programs were viable sources of funding for projects such as ours.

This year, for the first time, NSF is explicitly discouraging proposals to do long-term research on questions of development, behavioral mechanisms, adaptive value, physiological processes, and evolutionary history of behavior in animals. New proposals must be short-term (i.e. completely executed in a 1-3 year time frame), and explicitly NOT for the purpose of continuing long-term studies.

Some private foundations, such as the L.S.B. Leakey Foundation and National Geographic Society, remain highly sympathetic to supporting long-term studies of wild primates, but these organizations have small budgets, and their grants cannot realistically provide enough money to completely support a typical field site even for one year. They have traditionally been invaluable as sources of support for graduate student research and for bridging funds between larger government grants.

What this means is that many long-term sites will have to vastly reduce the scope and quality of their research, unless they succeed in obtaining private funds. Many long-term projects are forming non-profit organizations such as this one in an attempt to continue agendas of basic research, education and conservation on their study populations. Due to these changes at NSF, many long-term field sites will probably have to shut down in the next year or two. Private support is more important than ever, and we hope that anyone who is passionate about wildlife research and the conservation of natural habitats will consider donating to nonprofit organizations such as this one. If you like what we are doing, please spread the word to other people who share your interests.

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