Las Vegas, N.M. – A New Mexico Highlands graduate biology student’s research aims to help conserve harpy eagles in Brazil through better understanding the raptor’s prey.
Nickolas Lormand spent the summer of 2018 in the central Amazonian rainforest monitoring video and still cameras in the nests of harpy eagles to learn what the parents feed their young chicks.
“Harpy eagles are described as the largest and most powerful eagle and a flagship species crucial to maintaining healthy ecosystems of the Amazonian rainforest,” Lormand said. “Harpy eagles are facing habitat degradation due to deforestation for cattle ranching. Because the eagles operate in a large range, they are particularly susceptible to habitat loss.”
Lormand is basing his master’s thesis upon his research with the harpy eagles. The 25-year-old is in his first year of graduate biology studies at Highlands after completing a bachelor’s degree in media arts and technology with a minor in biology at the university in May 2016.
“Raptors are majestic, powerful birds that are fascinating from an ecological perspective for the critical role they play as predators,” Lormand said. “The primary goal of my Highlands research is to better understand the impact habitat loss has on harpy eagles. This loss can lower the prey diversity, which changes what the eagles are eating.
“For instance, in an area with severe deforestation the population of sloths, the eagle’s main food source, is much lower, and the eagles are likely to shift to eating other animals,” said Lormand, an avid birder who is co-president of the Conservation Club at Highlands.
After graduating from Highlands, Lormand spent two years primarily in Belize pursuing wildlife biology research and photography. As an undergraduate, he studied animal behavior and tropical ecology with Highlands biology professor Jesús Rivas, his graduate adviser.
“In January 2018, I decided to return to Highlands for graduate school. I had the opportunity to join Dr. Rivas then in his tropical ecology field course in Ecuador. The large amount of biodiversity in the Amazonian rainforest was richer than anything I’d seen before. Seeing the damage being done to that environment drove me to pursue conservation research in South America,” Lormand said.
Lormand said Rivas taught him to seize his own destiny and pursue his academic goals.
“Dr. Rivas inspires me with his passion and dedication to his conservation research and his students. He’s a superb mentor and the reason I came to Highlands for graduate school. As a whole, the Biology Department at Highlands encourages and supports students in following their path,” Lormand said.
Rivas said: “Nickolas is a wicked smart student who grasps scientific concepts quickly and is able to apply what he knows to new research situations. He’s a very motivated, independent student. I knew he would do well collecting his data in the middle of the Amazonian rainforest. Nickolas has unlimited potential and I expect him to contribute significantly to conservation of birds in the tropics.”
Looking ahead, Lormand said he wants to continue to research the role of raptors in tropical ecology at the doctoral level.
“It’s my passion to educate people about the importance of preserving tropical wildlife,” Lormand said.