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CSULB professor reveals new research on pandas

New research surfaces about why pandas are colored black and white.

During+his+four+year+study+on+pandas%2C+Ted+Stankowich+researched+the+biology+behind+the+bears%E2%80%99+black+and+white+fur+pattern.
During his four year study on pandas, Ted Stankowich researched the biology behind the bears’ black and white fur pattern.

During his four year study on pandas, Ted Stankowich researched the biology behind the bears’ black and white fur pattern.

Trang Le

Trang Le

During his four year study on pandas, Ted Stankowich researched the biology behind the bears’ black and white fur pattern.

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Ted Stankowich always dreamt of studying dinosaur bones, but by the time he was studying at Cornell University, he had found a new love — animal behavior research.

He discovered this new interest after an introductory course in his undergraduate junior year. Stankowich went on to earn his degree in biological sciences at Cornell and his doctorate in animal behavior at the University California Davis. However, Stankowich returned to his roots in 2012 to flourish as an assistant professor in the biology department at Cal State Long Beach.

In his time at the university, he unveiled the unknown reasons for animal behavior through research projects and designing robotic models of predators.

“The great thing about this job is that you’re always learning,” Stankowich said. “Every paper you read, every paper you write, every discovery means that you’re learning things you didn’t know before. No day is the same as the previous one. Every day brings a new discovery.”

The assistant professor began his research on why pandas are black and white with his graduate students and his collaborator of 10 years, Tim Caro, a professor at UC Davis. This team worked together for two years to compile photographs, analysis and data on pandas and carnivores with similar features until the research was published in March 2017.

“It was really sort of a Herculean effort of dictated collection for this one question, because we essentially had to collect five to 10 images of both the face and body of more than 200 carnivore species,” Stankowich said.

According to Stankowich, pandas are active year round, which means they do not have the luxury to be dormant and live in a single ecosystem. His team’s research supports that pandas are black and white because their coats serve as a camouflage. Stankowich and his team were able to conclude that panda bears must migrate to different environments for survival since their choice of food, bamboo, lacks nutrition and does not permit enough weight-gain to hibernate.

“Once you get the results it’s not this ‘ah-ha’ moment,” Stankowich clarified. “You have to talk it over, assess and discuss how to interpret those results in a biological and meaningful way. We take the data and results and weave it into a story.”

Kim Fisher, a student who graduated studying Science and Biology, praised the professor’s findings.

“Ted’s research is integrative because he looks at many topics of mammalian ecology and behavior, and investigates everything from morphology to evolution to current predator-prey relationships,” Fisher said.

Stankowich has published more than 40 research projects and says he has more in store. He plans on releasing another publication on how animal’s armor and spines can influence brain evolution in relative brain size and intelligence.

“We are doing great work with how skunks perceive fear from predators,” Stankowich said. “We’ve built a robotic porcupine. We have radio-controlled coyote models chasing skunks around. We are also going to do the same thing with an owl model.”

The professor is eager for his upcoming projects, but also to move on from his job as a faculty in residence at Beachside College. It is his third year programming events and advising residential students. However, the job only employs employees for three years, and Stankowich is ready to move on to bigger and better things.

“Ted is a passionate and caring professor. He is always willing to elaborate on his work and is always curious as to how students are doing,” said Andrew Ellis, a junior majoring in communication studies and a former Beachside Resident Assistant. “He is a joy to be around and is full of knowledge that everyone can learn from.”

There are many changes in Stankowich’s life, but he still has a constant of working in education. Stankowich attended Cornell University, interned at the University of California Irvine shark lab, earned his doctorate in animal behavior at Davis in 2006, worked as a Darwin Postdoctoral Fellow for two years at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, lectured at UMass and worked as a Teaching Fellow at Harvard University for two years. Now, Stankowich continues to educate others at Long Beach.

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