Field Work on a Shoestring: Using Consumer Technology as an Early Career Researcher

Post provided by CARLOS A. DE LA ROSA

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Champagne Tastes on a Beer Budget

Freshly outfitted with a VACAMS camera and GPS unit, #1691 heads off into the forest with her calf. ©Carlos A. de la Rosa

Freshly outfitted with a VACAMS camera and GPS unit, #1691 heads off into the forest with her calf. ©Carlos A. de la Rosa

There’s a frustrating yin and yang to biological research: motivated by curiosity and imagination, we often find ourselves instead defined by limitations. Some of these are fundamental human conditions. The spectrum of light detectable by human eyes, for example, means we can never see a flower the way a bee sees it. Others limitations, like funding and time, are realities of modern-day social and economic systems.

Early career researchers (ECRs) starting new projects and delving into new research systems must be especially creative to overcome the odds. Large grants can be transformative, giving a research group the equipment and resources to complete a study, but they’re tough to get. Inexperienced ECRs are at a disadvantage when competing against battle-hardened investigators with years of grant writing experience. Small grants of up to about $5000 USD, on the other hand, are comparatively easy to find. So, how can ECRs make the most of small, intermittent sources of funding?

I found myself faced with this question in the second year of my PhD field work. Continue reading

Trabajo de Campo a lo Barato: Uso de Tecnología de Productos de Consumo Para un Investigador al Inicio de su Carrera de Investigación

Contribución de CARLOS A. DE LA ROSA

This blog post is available in English

Gusto por champaña con presupuesto de cerveza

Recientemente equipada con una unidad de cámara y GPS VACAMS, la vaca No. 1691 se dirige al bosque con su becerro. ©Carlos A. de la Rosa

Recientemente equipada con una unidad de cámara y GPS VACAMS, la vaca No. 1691 se dirige al bosque con su becerro. ©Carlos A. de la Rosa

Hay un frustrante toma-y-dame en el campo de la investigación biológica: motivados por la curiosidad y la imaginación, a menudo nos encontramos definidos por limitaciones. Algunas de estas, como nuestros sentidos, son condiciones humanas fundamentales. El espectro de luz detectable por los ojos humanos, por ejemplo, significa que nunca podremos ver a una flor de la misma forma en que la ve una abeja. Otras limitaciones, como financiamiento y tiempo, representan las realidades de los sistemas sociales y económicos de hoy día.

Los investigadores al comienzo de sus carreras (Early Career Researchers, o ECRs en sus siglas en inglés) que se embarcan en nuevos proyectos y se involucran con sistemas nuevos de investigación deben ser especialmente creativos para poder superar las probabilidades. Una generosa beca puede ser transformativa, pero un ECR con poca experiencia está en desventaja cuando compite con investigadores ya endurecidos por la batalla, quienes tienen años de experiencia escribiendo propuestas de financiamiento. Por otra parte, las pequeñas becas en el rango de $2.000 a $5.000 son comparativamente fáciles de encontrar. ¿Cómo puede un ECR aprovechar al máximo estas pequeñas e intermitentes fuentes de financiamiento?

En el segundo año del trabajo de campo de mi doctorado me enfrenté con este enigma. Continue reading

‘Eavesdropping’ Technology used to Protect one of New Zealand’s Rarest Birds

Below is a press release about the Methods in Ecology and Evolution article ‘A novel method for using ecoacoustics to monitor post‐translocation behaviour in an endangered passerine‘ taken from the Zoological Society of London.

Juvenile hihi. ©ZSL

Juvenile hihi. ©ZSL

Scientists from international conservation charity ZSL (Zoological Society of London), Imperial College London and conservationists from the Rotokare Scenic Reserve Trust used acoustic monitoring devices to listen in on the ‘conversations’ of New Zealand’s endemic hihi bird, allowing them to assess the success of the reintroduction without impacting the group.

For the first time ZSL scientists were able to use the calls of a species as a proxy for their movement. A happy hihi call sounds like two marbles clanging together in what is known as the ‘stitch’ call. Scientists saw the calls change from an initial random distribution to a more settled home range – marking the hihi reintroduction and the new method a success. Continue reading

Map of Chemicals in Jellyfish Could be the Future to Protecting UK Waters and Marine Life

Below is a press release about the Methods in Ecology and Evolution article ‘Spatial models of carbon, nitrogen and sulphur stable isotope distributions (isoscapes) across a shelf sea: An INLA approach‘ taken from the University of Southampton.

Jellyfish opportunistically caught in UK waters are used to map chemical variations across marine space. ©University of Southampton

Jellyfish opportunistically caught in UK waters are used to map chemical variations across marine space. ©University of Southampton

Scientists at the University of Southampton have developed maps of chemicals found in jellyfish which could offer a new tool for conservation in British waters and fisheries. The maps will also be able to detect fraudulently labelled food in retail outlets by helping to trace the origins of seafood.

The Southampton based research team including Dr Clive Trueman, Dr Katie St. John Glew and Dr Laura Graham, built maps of the chemical variations in jellyfish caught in an area of approximately 1 million km2 of the UK shelf seas. These chemical signals vary according to where the fish has been feeding due to differences in the marine environment’s chemistry, biology and physical processes. Continue reading

New Research Shows Pretend Porpoise Sounds are Helping Conservation Efforts

Below is a press release about the Methods in Ecology and Evolution article ‘Estimating effective detection area of static passive acoustic data loggers from playback experiments with cetacean vocalisations‘ taken from Swansea University.

Harbour porpoise under the surface - I. Birks, SeaWatchFoundation

Harbour porpoise under the surface – I. Birks, SeaWatchFoundation

An examination into the detection of harbour porpoises is helping to give new understanding of effective monitoring of species under threat from anthropogenic activities such as fisheries bycatch and coastal pollution.

In a first study of its kind, Dr Hanna Nuuttila, currently at Swansea University’s College of Science – together with scientists from the German Oceanographic Museum, the University of St Andrews and Bangor University – revealed how playing back porpoise sounds to an acoustic logger can be used to assess the detection area of the device, a metric typically required for effective monitoring and conservation of protected species.

Continue reading

All You (Possibly) Ever Wanted to Know about ‘Trap Nests’

Post provided by Michael Staab

What are ‘Trap Nests’ and What are They Good For?

Females are attracted to the hollow material in trap nests.

Females are attracted to the hollow material in trap nests.

When thinking of bees and wasps, most people have social insects living in colonies in mind. But most species are actually solitary. In these species, every female builds her own nest and does not care for the offspring once nest construction is completed. Most of those species nest in the ground. Several thousand species of bees and wasps use pre-existing above-ground cavities though (such as hollow twigs and stems, cracks under bark, or empty galleries of wood-boring insects).

To keep you in suspense, I’ll resolve the importance of studying cavity-nesting species later in this blog post. First, I’ll introduce you to one of the more elegant research methods in ecology: trap nests. To study and collect these cavity-nesting species, you can take advantage of their nesting preferences. By exposing artificial cavities and offering access to an otherwise restricted nesting resource, you can attract females searching for suitable nesting sites.

Building these trap nests is simple, but the design can vary greatly. Many designs and materials can be used to build the artificial nesting sites, such as drilling holes in wooden blocks or packing hollow plant material (e.g. reeds) in plastic tubes. Once females find the trap nest and finish their nest construction, the developing offspring are literally ‘trapped’ in their nests. They can then be collected, their trophic interactions (e.g. food and natural enemies) observed, and the specimens can be reared for identification. Continue reading

BES Macroecology 2018: Macroecology and Data

Post provided by Faith Jones

© Matthew Leonard

© Matthew Leonard

The annual BES Macroecology Special Interest Group conference took place on the 10th and 11th of July. This year the meeting was in St Andrews, Scotland. Over 100 delegates came together in this old University town to discuss the latest research and concepts in macroecology and macroevolution.

Remote Sensing, Funky Koalas and a Science Ceilidh

The conference opened with a plenary by Journal of Applied Ecology Senior Editor Nathalie Pettorelli from ZSL. She talked about how remote sensing can be used in ecological and conservation studies. In the other plenary talks, we heard from:

  • Methods in Ecology and Evolution Senior Editor Bob O’Hara from NTNU on, among other things, how useful occupancy models are when “occupancy” is such a broad term
  • Anne Magurran from the University of St Andrews discussing turnover and biodiversity change
  • Brian McGill from the University of Maine talking about the data-driven approach to the “biodiversity orthodoxy” and challenging the conventional wisdom about macroecological change

We also hosted a student plenary speaker, Alex Skeels, who gave a lively talk about diversification and geographical modelling using some pretty funky disco koalas. In addition to these talks, there were 60 short 5 minutes talks and 20 posters. Continue reading

Remote Camera Network Tracks Antarctic Species at Low Cost

Below is a press release about the Methods in Ecology and Evolution article ‘Estimating nest‐level phenology and reproductive success of colonial seabirds using time‐lapse cameras‘ taken from NOAA Fisheries.

Camera system in place in an Adélie and gentoo penguin colony ©Jefferson Hinke, NOAA Fisheries

Camera system in place in an Adélie and gentoo penguin colony ©Jefferson Hinke, NOAA Fisheries

An international research team has developed a simple method for using a network of autonomous time-lapse cameras to track the breeding and population dynamics of Antarctic penguins, providing a new, low-cost window into the health and productivity of the Antarctic ecosystem.

The team of scientists from NOAA Fisheries and several other nations published in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution, descriptions of the camera system and a new method for turning static images into useful data on the timing and success of penguin reproduction. They say that the system monitors penguins as effectively as scientists could in person, for a fraction of the cost. Continue reading

Using the Smith-Root ANDe System for Wildlife Conservation

POST PROVIDED BY TRACIE SEIMON, PHD

The ANDe system can help researchers tell whether endangered species are present.

The ANDe system can help researchers tell whether endangered species are present.

In recent years, there have been a lot of studies on the use of environmental DNA (eDNA) for species detection and monitoring. This method takes advantage of the fact that organisms shed DNA into the environment in the form of urine, feces, or cells from tissue such as skin. As this DNA stays in the environment, we can use molecular techniques to search for traces of it. By doing this, we can determine if a species lives in a particular place.

At the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), we’re integrating and using the ANDe system in combination with ultra-portable qPCR (quantitative polymerase chain reaction) and DNA extraction technologies developed by Biomeme Inc. for eDNA capture and species detection of endangered turtles, and other aquatic organisms. This helps us to better monitor species within our global conservation programs. Continue reading

Practical Tools: A New Article Type and a Virtual Issue

Today, we’re pleased to announce that we’re launching a new article type for Methods in Ecology and Evolution: Practical Tools. Like our Applications articles, Practical Tools will be short papers (up to 3000 words). They’ll focus on new field techniques, equipment or lab protocols. From this point forward, our Applications papers will solely focus on software and code.

Practical tools need to clearly demonstrate how tools designed for specific systems or problems can be adapted for more general use. Online supporting information can include specific instructions, especially for building equipment. You can find some examples of Applications that would now fit into this article type here and here.

To help launch our new article type, we asked four of our Associate Editors – Pierre Durand, Graziella Iossa, Nicolas Lecomte and Andrew Mahon – to put together a Virtual Issue of papers about Field Methods that have previously been published in the journal. All of the articles in ‘Practical Tools: A Field Methods Virtual Issue‘ will be free to everyone for the next month. You can find out a bit more about each of the four sections of the Virtual Issue below. Continue reading