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

Topography of Teeth: Tools to Track Animal and Ecosystem Responses to Environmental Changes

Below is a press release about the Methods paper ‘Inferring diet from dental morphology in terrestrial mammals‘ taken from the Smithsonian Institution.

By charting the slopes and crags on animals’ teeth as if they were mountain ranges, scientists at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History have created a powerful new way to learn about the diets of extinct animals from the fossil record.

Understanding the diets of animals that lived long ago can tell researchers about the environments they lived in and help them piece together a picture of how the planet has changed over deep time. The new quantitative approach to analysing dentition, reported on 21 November in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution, will also give researchers a clearer picture of how animals evolve in response to changes in their environment.

gorilla

A 3D reconstruction of the teeth of a western gorilla (Gorilla gorilla).

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Why Accurate Stable Isotope Discrimination Factors are so Important: A cautionary tale (involving kea)

Post provided by AMANDA GREER

Stable isotopes as a tool for ecologists

Our research into the foraging ecology of this cheeky parrot (kea: Nestor notabilis) prompted us to develop a simple method to establish discrimination factors © Andruis Pašukonis

Our research into the foraging ecology of this cheeky parrot (kea: Nestor notabilis) prompted us to develop a simple method to establish discrimination factors © Andruis Pašukonis

Isotopes are atoms that have the same number of protons and electrons but differ in their number of neutrons; they are lighter and heavier forms of the same element. Unlike radioactive isotopes, stable isotopes do not decay over time.

The ratio of heavy to light stable carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) isotopes in an animal’s tissues depend on its diet, although offset by a certain amount. This integration of δ13C and δ15N from an animal’s diet into its tissues allows ecologists to use stable isotope analysis to investigate a species’ present and historical diets, food-web structures, niche shifts,  migration patterns and more.   Continue reading