Sloth Ecology

Ryan J. HauptRyan J. Haupt explaining his project is a paleoecologist who collaborated with Becky Cliffe while gathering sloth tissue samples here at the Sloth Sanctuary. He is studying today’s tree sloths and their rainforest habitat to better understand the paleoecosystems of extinct giant ground sloths. The title of his study is “Can sloths serve as ‘canaries in the coal mine’ for forest health today and in the past?” This means modern-day sloths’ habitats can inform scientists about the past so they can develop advanced conservation techniques for the future.

Because wild sloths are challenging to study due to their natural camouflage, slow movements and preference for staying up high in the canopy, the project will use stable isotopes (working at the atomic level) as a proxy for diet/habitat. Ryan’s call for funding states:

“This serves two goals: a better grasp of sloth ecology and a metric for applying these techniques to fossil sloths. There are two main goals for this project. The first is to use stable isotope analysis to greatly increase our knowledge of modern sloth ecology. The second is to use those insights to rethink how we view similar data from fossil sloths. These results will form a chapter of my Ph.D. dissertation and will also be presented at conferences, published in peer-reviewed journals and talked about on my podcast. Last year I collected the samples I’d need from deceased frozen sloths at the Sloth Sanctuary in Costa Rica, but I left the samples there while I waited for the proper permits to export them to the US, which we got a few months ago.”

This project is still in the crowdfunding phase. Learn more and/or see how you can help them meet their goal.

Ryan J. Haupt, Ph.D. Candidate | University of Wyoming

Becky Cliffe, Ph.D. Student | Swansea University (UK)