CARBONDALE, IL (KFVS) - Southern Illinois University Carbondale graduate student Justin D'Agostino is the recipient of a J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship award to study the origins of language flexibility by investigating how globalization impacts primate vocalizations.
A doctoral anthropology student, D'Agostino will spend a minimum of 10 months in Indonesia, flying into Jakarta in September to do field work in Sikundur and Batang Toru on the island of Sumatra. His project, "Effects of anthropogenic noise on the natural calling behavior of wild siamang," involves testing how human-induced noise affects the loud, long, almost daily duets of the siamangs – the largest of the gibbons.
D'Agostino said the implications of his study extend well beyond the black furry mammals.
"One of the most important parts of my doctoral education here at SIU is learning how to put this into an evolutionary perspective. It is possible, but at the same time quite difficult, to clearly show that if a close relative to humans, with a similar vocalization system, is impacted by noise, then all modern humans are also likely susceptible," he said. "This project also has important conservation implications and could show that these animals are impacted not only by direct deforestation, but also by subtle things like human noise."
In addition to his research, D'Agostino, in partnership with Syiah Kuala University, Yayasan Ekosistem Lestari and the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program, will work with local field guides and make educational presentations in local schools and villages, engaging the community in his work and explaining the research.
He said that during his time in Indonesia, he hopes "to expand my established research skill set and my Bahasa, Indonesia, language competency. I want to contribute to primate communication research and honor the local culture by conversing with Indonesians in their native language. In addition to collecting data to finish my Ph.D. at SIU, I am also making a documentary of this experience, titled 'From Captivity to the Jungle,' to share this amazing experience with family, friends and anyone else who is curious about this research adventure."
D'Agostino said he's thankful that SIU has been so supportive of him and his research. Recently, he was chosen as one of the six recipients of the 2017 Graduate Professional Student Council Research Awards, which will also provide financial assistance for his research.
"I have loved my experience here at SIU, working with supportive faculty and staff to enable me to do something very important to the human species – hypothesis-driven scientific research," D'Agnostino said. "I'm very honored to accept this prestigious scholarship and become a member of the Fulbright family. This experience is professionally and personally rewarding."
After completing his Fulbright project and his doctorate at SIU, D'Agnostino said he plans to become an anthropology professor and "continue doing research until my brain and body cannot do it anymore."