The journey from designing to employing an automated radio telemetry system to track monarch butterflies

Post provided by Kelsey E. Fisher

Kelsey Fisher describes the motivations and challenges in the development of a novel automated radio telemetry method to track the movement of butterflies at the landscape scale published in their new Methods article ‘Locating large insects using automated VHF radio telemetry with a multi‐antennae array’.

LB-2X transmitter attached to a monarch butterfly.

Understanding animal movement across varying spatial and temporal scales is an active area of fundamental ecological research, with practical applications in the fields of conservation biology and natural resource management. Advancements in tracking technologies, such as GPS and satellite systems, allow researchers to obtain more location information for a variety of species than ever before. It’s an exciting time for movement ecologists! However, entomologists studying insect movement are still limited because of the large size of tracking devices relative to the small size of insects.

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Tracking the fate of fish

Post provided by David Villegas Ríos

David Ríos tells us about investigating the movement of aquatic animals using telemetry technology and the new Methods article ‘Inferring individual fate from aquatic acoustic telemetry data’.

Photo by Carla Freitas

Aquatic animal telemetry has revolutionized our understanding of the behaviour of aquatic animals. One of the important advantages of telemetry methods, including acoustic telemetry, is that they provide information at the individual level. This is very relevant because it enables investigating the natural variability in behaviour within populations (like here or here), but also because one can investigate what happens to each individual animal and relate it to its natural behaviour. Knowing “what happens to each individual” is normally referred to as “fate” and it can take many forms: some fish may end-up eaten by predators, other may be fished, some of them may disperse, etc. Knowing the fate of each individual fish is crucial as it links ecological processes at the individual level to evolutionary outcomes at the population level.

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Biomechanically-Aware Behaviour Recognition using Accelerometers

Post provided by Pritish Chakravarty

 

Accelerometers, Ground Truthing, and Supervised Learning

Accelerometers are sensitive to movement and the lack of it. They are not sentient and must recognise animal behaviour based on a human observer’s cognition. Therefore, remote recognition of behaviour using accelerometers requires ground truth data which is based on human observation or knowledge. The need for validated behavioural information and for automating the analysis of the vast amounts of data collected today, have resulted in many studies opting for supervised machine learning approaches.

Ground-truthing. The acceleration data stream (recorded using the animal-borne data logger, bottom-left) is synchronised with simultaneously recorded video (near top right). Picture credit: Kamiar Aminian

In such approaches, the process of ground truthing involves time-synchronising acceleration signals with simultaneously recorded video, having an animal behaviour expert create an ethogram, and then annotate the video according to this ethogram. This links the recorded acceleration signal to the stream of observed animal behaviours that produced it. After this, acceleration signals are chopped up into finite sections of pre-set size (e.g. two seconds), called windows. From acceleration data within windows, quantities called ‘features’ are engineered with the aim of summarising characteristics of the acceleration signal. Typically, ~15-20 features are computed. Good features will have similar values for the same behaviour, and different values for different behaviours.

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Stereo DOV: A Non-Invasive, Non-Destructive Way to Study Fish Populations

It’s more important than ever for us to have accurate information to help marine conservation efforts. Jordan Goetze and his colleagues have provided the first comprehensive guide for researchers using diver operated stereo-video methods (or stereo-DOVs) to survey fish assemblages and their associated habitat.

But what is Stereo DOV? What makes it a better method than the traditional UVC (Underwater Visual Census) method? And when should you use it? Find out in this video:

To find out more about stereo DOVs, read the full Methods in Ecology and Evolution article ‘A field and video analysis guide for diver operated stereo‐video
(No Subscription Required).

If you’re using interesting new field techniques like this, why not submit a Practical Tools manuscript about them? You can find out more about Practical Tools manuscripts here.

Quantifying Animal Movement from Videos

Quantifying animal movement is central to research spanning a variety of topics. It’s an important area of study for behavioural ecologists, evolutionary biologists, ecotoxicologists and many more. There are a lot of ways to track animals, but they’re often difficult, especially for people who don’t have a strong background in programming.

Vivek Hari SridharDominique G. Roche and Simon Gingins have developed a new, simple software to help with this though: Tracktor. This package provides researchers with a free, efficient, markerless video-based tracking solution to analyse animal movement of single individuals and groups.

Vivek and Simon explain the features and strengths of Tracktor in this new video:

Read the full Methods in Ecology and Evolution article ‘Tracktor: Image‐based automated tracking of animal movement and behaviour
(No Subscription Required).

Download and start using Tracktor via GitHub.

Animation Meets Biology: Shedding New Light on Animal Behaviour

Below is a press release about the Methods paper ‘Integrating evolutionary biology with digital arts to quantify ecological constraints on vision-based behaviour‘ taken from the La Trobe University.

Ctenophorus fionni (Peninsula Dragon), male push up display - Copyright Jose Ramos, La Trobe University

Ctenophorus fionni (Peninsula Dragon), male push up display. © Jose Ramos, La Trobe University

Many animals rely on movement to find prey and avoid predators. Movement is also an essential component of the territorial displays of lizards, comprising tail, limb, head and whole-body movements.

For the first time, digital animation has been used as a research tool to examine how the effectiveness of a lizard’s territorial display varies across ecological environments and conditions. The new research was published today in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution.

A team from La Trobe University’s School of Life Sciences, led by Dr Richard Peters, worked with academics from Monash University’s Faculty of IT to create, using 3D animation, a series of varied environmental settings and weather conditions, comprising different plant environments and wind conditions, to quantify how lizard displays are affected by this variation. Continue reading

New Associate Editor: Marie Auger-Méthé

Today, we are pleased to be welcoming a new member of the Methods in Ecology and Evolution Associate Editor Board. Marie Auger-Méthé joins us from Dalhousie University in Canada and you can find out a little more about her below.

Marie Auger-Méthé

Marie Auger-Méthé

“I am broadly interested in developing and applying statistical tools to infer behavioural and population processes from empirical data. My work tends to focus on marine and polar mammals, but the methods I develop are often applicable to a wide range of species and ecosystems. My recent work has centred on modelling animal behaviour using movement data and I generally analyse data with spatial and/or temporal structure.”

Marie has been reviewing for Methods in Ecology and Evolution for a few years and has contributed articles to some of the other journals of the British Ecological Society too. Earlier this month, her article titled ‘Evaluating random search strategies in three mammals from distinct feeding guilds‘ was published in the Journal of Animal Ecology. Continue reading

moveHMM: An Interview with Théo Michelot

David Warton (University of New South Wales) interviews Théo Michelot (University of Sheffield) about an article on his recent R package moveHMM in Methods in Ecology and Evolution. David and Théo also discuss the case study in the paper – on the understudied wild haggis – and what advances could be made to the package in future.

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Statistical Ecology Virtual Issue

StatEcolVI_WebAdAt the last ISEC, in Montpellier in 2014, an informal survey suggested that Methods in Ecology and Evolution was the most cited journal in talks. This reflects the importance of statistical methods in ecology and it is one reason for the success of the journal. For this year’s International Statistcal Ecology Conference in Seattle we have produced a virtual issue that presents some of our best recent papers which cross the divide between statistics and ecology. They range over most of the topics covered at ISEC, from statistical theory to abundance estimation and distance sampling.

We hope that Methods in Ecology and Evolution will be equally well represented in talks in Seattle, and also – just as in Montpellier – some of the work presented will find its way into the pages of the journal in the future.

Without further ado though, here is a brief overview of the articles in our Statistical Ecology Virtual Issue: Continue reading

Issue 7.5

Issue 7.5 is now online!

The May issue of Methods is now online!

This month’s issue contains two Applications articles and two Open Access articles, all of which are freely available.

piecewiseSEM: A practical implementation of confirmatory path analysis for the R programming language. This package extends the method to all current (generalized) linear, (phylogenetic) least-square, and mixed effects models, relying on familiar R syntax. The article also includes two worked examples.

 RPANDA: An R package that implements model-free and model-based phylogenetic comparative methods for macroevolutionary analyses. It can be used to:

  1. Characterize phylogenetic trees by plotting their spectral density profiles
  2. Compare trees and cluster them according to their similarities
  3. Identify and plot distinct branching patterns within trees
  4. Compare the fit of alternative diversification models to phylogenetic trees
  5. Estimate rates of speciation and extinction
  6. Estimate and plot how these rates have varied with time and environmental variables
  7. Deduce and plot estimates of species richness through geological time. Continue reading