Dr. Alex Trillo and Dr. Zuleyma Tang-Martínez highlighted the significant progress of Latin American researchers in animal behavior, emphasizing the importance of diverse perspectives, addressing challenges faced by marginalized groups, and advocating for language inclusivity to foster a more accessible and collaborative scientific community.

In a recent interview during the ABS 2023 held in Portland, Oregon, Dr. Janire Castellano Bueno delved deep into the world of animal behavior science with two leaders in the field—Dr. Alex Trillo and Dr. Zuleyma Tang-Martínez. The conversation unraveled the progress, challenges, and promising future of Latin American researchers in the field, shedding light on their unique contributions and the strategies employed to overcome obstacles. 

<<Especially as Latin Americans, we have an entirely different way of looking at the field sometimes>>

<<Coming from marginalized groups, we have that background of being part of a marginalized community, and that gives us different perspectives.>>

Reflecting on the early days, Dr. Trillo shared, “When I first started, there were only a couple of [Latin American] professors in the US doing animal behavior—Zuleyma was one of the first ones, and Leticia Avilés, and I think that’s about it.” Both interviewees celebrated the substantial growth in the community, with Dr. Tang-Martínez noting, “There has been an enormous change for the better.” These quotes echo the transformative journey of Latin American scientists who, against initial odds, have become instrumental in shaping the field.

“Especially as Latin Americans, we have an entirely different way of looking at the field sometimes,” Dr. Trillo emphasized, highlighting the unique perspectives that Latin Americans bring to animal behavior research. Dr. Tang-Martínez added depth, stating, “Coming from marginalized groups, we have that background of being part of a marginalized community, and that gives us different perspectives.” The interview underscores the importance of these diverse viewpoints in fostering a richer and more comprehensive understanding of animal behavior.

Dr. Tang-Martínez reflected on the past, “When I was starting out, I didn’t even know that animal behavior was something that you could study.” The interviewees discussed the challenges faced by marginalized groups, acknowledging how these challenges contribute to a more inquisitive approach within the field. Dr. Trillo emphasized, “It’s been very important to have those different perspectives, particularly in terms of the sociality of science and how science is done.” This acknowledgment brings to light the resilience and determination of Latin American researchers.

Dr. Trillo stressed the need for a critical mass of Latin American scientists, stating, “Everything that we can do to increase representation…it’s going to be hard.” The interviewees explored strategies like mentorship programs and workshops, with Dr. Tang-Martínez, adding, “Some of the workshops that we have had help people to understand cultural differences, and that really helps to bring about better understanding.” These initiatives are not just about numbers but about fostering a supportive and inclusive environment for Latin American scientists to thrive.

Discussing the language barrier, Dr. Trillo emphasized, “Having bilingual talks and opportunities for bilingual science is really important.” Dr. Tang-Martínez, suggested practical steps like having abstracts in both English and Spanish or Portuguese in journals. The interviewees recognized the importance of supporting Latin American students in both English, Spanish and Portuguese to ensure accessibility without compromising opportunities. Dr. Trillo concluded, “I think there’s a two-part thing. One is pushing for Spanish or Portuguese, especially in ABS, to be a fundamental part of it. The other is supporting Latin American students in writing grants or papers in English.” This emphasis on language bridges the gap, making science more accessible without losing the essence of diverse perspectives.

Dr. Tang-Martínez,emphasized the need for language inclusivity, stating, “Abstracts, for example, in the journal Animal Behaviour, could be in English and Spanish, or in Portuguese which a lot of journals have put out, our journal has not.” Dr. Trillo added, “I’ve even thought of […] if you give a talk in English, having at least one summary slide along with your English summary slide, having the same slide in Spanish and Portuguese.” These suggestions aim to normalize language inclusivity in scientific communication. 

<<There has been an enormous change for the better, and it’s crucial that we continue to foster an inclusive and supportive environment for Latin American researchers.>>

The interviewees painted a vivid and hopeful picture of the evolving landscape of animal behavior research in Latin America. Dr. Tang-Martínez, summarized, “There has been an enormous change for the better, and it’s crucial that we continue to foster an inclusive and supportive environment for Latin American researchers.” Dr. Trillo echoed this sentiment, stating, “I think our desire, right, for many of us that are in the Latin American Affairs committee, is that we become a critical mass.”

As Latin American researchers continue to thrive and contribute significantly to the global scientific community in animal behavior, the barriers are breaking, paving the way for a more inclusive and collaborative future. The journey is ongoing, but the strides being made are inspiring and promising.

About the Interviewees:
Dr. Alex Trillo and Dr. Zuleyma Tang-Martínez are esteemed researchers in the field of animal behavior, actively contributing to the growth and development of Latin American scientists in this dynamic discipline.

Alex Trillo, the head of the Latin American Affairs Committee at the Animal Behavior Society, is a behavioral ecologist and field biologist, whose current research focuses on the impact of eavesdropper predators and parasites on signal evolution and signaling behavior, as well as the effects of polyandry on sexual trait evolution in beetles.

Zuleyma Tang-Martínez, former president of the Animal Behvior Society and the founder of the Latin American Affairs Committee, is an emeritus professor of biology at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. Her research focuses on the social behavior of animals, particularly emphasizing the mechanisms, development, and function of vertebrate social behavior. She has played a key role in challenging certain established ideas in animal behavior; by offering novel perspectives and interpretations, particularly the areas of sexual selection and male-female sexual behavior, she has inspired a re-examination of these topics and has influenced the direction of the field. She also has a strong interest in the history of science and emphasizes that, only by maintaining a critical approach to science, can we attain a profound understanding of evolution that can also assist in effective conservation initiatives.

You can access full interview transcript here.

Article written by Janire Castellano

Transcripted and edited by Matthew Wheelwright