Jacob Kraus spotlight

1. Explain your research so that your grandparent or a 5-year old would understand it?

I am a primate behavioral ecologist by training, which means that I study how primates interact with their environments. I am broadly interested in how primates modify their behaviors to cope with the challenges of surviving in extreme habitats. My current research focuses on understanding how the behaviors of black-and-white snub-nosed monkeys enable them to occupy the highest elevations of any non-human primate (upwards of 4,700 meters above sea level), where conditions are so extreme that their preferred foods (young leaves) are largely absent for most of the year. The findings from this research can 1) help researchers predict how snub-nosed monkeys and other high-elevation primates may respond to habitat destruction and climate change, and 2) inform efforts to better conserve high-elevation primates.

2. What inspired you to pursue that research?

Ever since I can remember, I have been interested in exploring the natural world. When I was a senior undergraduate student, I knew that I wanted to pursue research on something biology-related where I could spend my time in the field rather than in the lab. I ended up getting a job as a research camp manager for the Guassa Gelada Research Project where I was in charge of collecting behavioral data on the behaviors and diets of gelada monkeys in central Ethiopia. After 14 months of living in a tent following these monkeys every day, I was hooked on primate research. While this led me to grad school, I had no idea what I wanted to study here at UW-Madison. As fate would have it, our lab was hosting a visiting scholar from China who worked on snub-nosed monkeys. I will always remember attending the talks that this researcher gave around campus where he would end by inviting people to collaborate with him. I eventually thought to myself, ‘Why not me?’ Before I knew it, I was off to China the following summer.

3. What are your hobbies or interests outside of school?

I enjoy everything and anything that allows me to be outdoors, but I have a particular fondness for hiking with my dog, soccer, and disc golf. I am a huge trivia nerd and love going to the various trivia nights around Madison. I am also very into puzzles and tabletop board games.

4. What are your favorite places/things to do in Madison?

One of my favorite places to visit is the Prairie Morain County Dog Park, where I can let my dog run wild while I stop to pick apples, pears, mulberries, or blackberries, depending on the season. I also spend a lot of time at the Garver Feed Mill on the eastern side of town, where I can play board games with friends at Roll Play after grabbing a slice of pizza from Ian’s. When I need a bite to eat while on campus, you can usually find me snacking on a bánh mì from the Saigon Sandwiches food truck or on one of the GIGANTIC spring rolls from the Fresh Cool Drinks food truck. If you are looking for me on a Saturday morning, you will probably find me outside the capital building wandering around the farmer’s market.


5. What are some pleasant surprises you’ve encountered while being a graduate student here?

Upon arriving in Madison, I was pleasantly surprised by the strength of the IBio graduate student community. From weekly hangouts at Memorial Union to monthly check-ins and professional development meetings to our annual retreat at Trout Lake Station, my fellow IBio graduate students always knew how to create an environment that felt like home. I have become close friends with many current and former IBio graduate students and am excited to keep in touch with them as we progress to the next stages of our careers.

6. What is your dream job?

My dream job is a professor position at a small liberal arts college, where I can engage deeply with students through personalized learning and close mentoring relationships. The intimate and collaborative environment of a liberal arts college supports my passion for fostering critical thinking and intellectual curiosity in small class settings. I also hope to continue studying primates living in extreme habitats and am excited to give students the opportunity to participate in this research.