Assessing Sea Turtle Populations: Can We Get a Hand From Drones and Deep Learning?

Post provided by PATRICK GRAY

An olive ridley sea turtle in Ostional, Costa Rica. ©Vanessa Bézy.

Understanding animal movement and population size is a challenge for researchers studying any megafauna species. Sea turtles though, add a whole additional level of complexity. These wide-ranging, swift, charismatic animals spend much of their time underwater and in remote places. When trying to track down and count turtles, this obstacle to understanding population size becomes a full-on barricade.

Censusing these animals doesn’t just satisfy our scientific curiosity. It’s critical for understanding the consequences of unsound fishing practices, the benefits of conservation policy, and overall trends in population health for sea turtles, of which, six out of seven species range from vulnerable to critically endangered. Continue reading

Scant Amounts of DNA Reveal Conservation Clues

Below is a press release about the Methods in Ecology and Evolution article ‘Empowering conservation practice with efficient and economical genotyping from poor quality samples‘ taken from the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

Wild tiger in India. ©Prasenjeet Yadav

The challenges of collecting DNA samples directly from endangered species makes understanding and protecting them harder. A new approach promises cheap, rapid analysis of genetic clues in degraded and left-behind material, such as hair and commercial food products.

The key to solving a mystery is finding the right clues. Wildlife detectives aiming to protect endangered species have long been hobbled by the near impossibility of collecting DNA samples from rare and elusive animals. Continue reading

How Can Understanding Animal Behaviour Help Support Wildlife Conservation?

Below is a press release about the Methods in Ecology and Evolution article ‘A novel biomechanical approach for animal behaviour recognition using accelerometers‘ taken from the EPFL.

©Arpat Ozgul, University of Zurich

Researchers from EPFL and the University of Zurich have developed a model that uses data from sensors worn by meerkats to gain a more detailed picture of how animals behave in the wild.

Advancement in sensor technologies has meant that field biologists are now collecting a growing mass of ever more precise data on animal behaviour. Yet there is currently no standardised method for determining exactly how to interpret these signals. Take meerkats, for instance. A signal that the animal is active could mean that it is moving; alternatively, it could indicate that it is digging in search of its favourite prey, scorpions. Likewise, an immobile meerkat could be resting – or keeping watch.

In an effort to answer these questions, researchers from EPFL’s School of Engineering Laboratory of Movement Analysis and Measurement (LMAM) teamed up with colleagues from the University of Zurich’s Population Ecology Research Group to develop a behavior recognition model. The research was conducted in affiliation with the Kalahari Research Centre. Continue reading

New Technologies Could Help Conservationists Keep Better Track of Serengeti Wildebeest Herds

Below is a press release about the Methods in Ecology and Evolution article ‘A comparison of deep learning and citizen science techniques for counting wildlife in aerial survey images‘ taken from the University of Glasgow.

A wildebeest herd in the Serengeti. ©Daniel Rosengren

A wildebeest herd in the Serengeti. ©Daniel Rosengren

Mathematicians and conservationists from the UK, Africa and the United States have used machine-learning and citizen science techniques to accurately count wildebeest in the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania more rapidly than is possible using traditional methods.

Evaluating wildebeest abundance is currently extremely costly and time-intensive, requiring manual counts of animals in thousands of aerial photographs of their habitats. From those counts, which can take months to complete, wildlife researchers use statistical estimates to determine the size of the population. Detecting changes in the population helps wildlife managers make more informed decisions about how best to keep herds healthy and sustainable. 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

Advances in Modelling Demographic Processes: A New Cross-Journal Special Feature

Analysis of datasets collected on marked individuals has spurred the development of statistical methodology to account for imperfect detection. This has relevance beyond the dynamics of marked populations. A couple of great examples of this are determining site occupancy or disease infection state.

EURING Meetings

The regular series of EURING-sponsored meetings (which began in 1986) have been key to this development. They’ve brought together biological practitioners, applied modellers and theoretical statisticians to encourage an exchange of ideas, data and methods.

This new cross-journal Special Feature between Methods in Ecology and Evolution and Ecology and Evolution, edited by Rob Robinson and Beth Gardner, brings together a collection of papers from the most recent EURING meeting. That meeting was held in Barcelona, Spain, 2017, and was hosted by the Museu de Ciènces Naturals de Barcelona. Although birds have provided a convenient focus, the methods are applicable to a wide range of taxa, from plants to large mammals. 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

Limitations and Benefits of the Unmatched Count Technique: Considering How We Use New Methods in Conservation

Post provided by Amy Hinsley and Ana Nuno

Esta publicação no blogue também está disponível em português

A New Conservation Toolbox

It is widely accepted that many conservation challenges are directly related to human behaviour. Whether it is the over-collection of a rare orchid by harvesters in Southeast Asia, or the decisions by collectors in Europe to buy and smuggle these orchids home, understanding the extent and nature of these behaviours is essential to addressing the threats they might cause. This has led conservation researchers and practitioners to start looking outside of their discipline, to find methods and approaches from across the social sciences to improve our understanding of these complex issues.

A research assistant carrying out a UCT survey about the use of Traditional Medicine products containing bear bile in China. © Chen Haochun.

A research assistant carrying out a UCT survey about the use of Traditional Medicine products containing bear bile in China. © Chen Haochun.

While this interdisciplinarity is a positive move for conservation, it is important that we treat these ‘new’ methods carefully and understand their limitations. If we don’t, there is a risk that our new toolbox full of exciting methods that sound great on a funding application, may in fact not be making what we do any better, or in extreme cases they may even be making it worse.

With this in mind, a group of conservation social scientists, led by researchers at the Universities of Oxford and Exeter, decided to look in depth into one of these ‘new’ methods, to provide recommendations on when and how it should be used, and when it shouldn’t. Our Open Access article – ‘Asking sensitive questions using the unmatched count technique: Applications and guidelines for conservation‘ – looks at the Unmatched Count Technique (UCT – also called the list experiment), which is increasingly being used in conservation to ask questions about ‘sensitive’ topics. Continue reading

Methods in Temporal Ecology

Post provided by Althea L. Davies & M. Jane Bunting

This post presents our reflections from two sessions at the first British Ecological Society Annual Meeting since the Palaeoecology Special Interest Group (SIG) was formed. Did the term “palaeoecology” make you want to stop reading? Then you’re not alone – our field of ecology seems to have drifted apart from neoecology over the last couple decades. We seem to have been separated by our choice of methods, rather than brought together by the fascinating, complex and essential challenges of better understanding ecosystem function that we share.

The diversity of talks at BES 2018 showed that ecologists working on time scales beyond the scope of direct study are researching the same urgent, exciting questions as other flavours of ecology. And that they are doing it by using an ever-growing range of methods and technologies. The Thematic Session ‘Advancing Our Understanding of Long-Term Ecology’ showcased advances in studies of long-term ecology. The Palaeoecology Oral Session demonstrated the diversity within this field. We don’t have room to mention all presenters, so we’d like to highlight contributions from two speakers in each session which demonstrate how strong the shared ground between palaeoecology and neoecology is. Continue reading