To understand the factors shaping vocal communication, we need reliable information about the communicating individuals on different levels. First, vocal behaviour should be recorded from undisturbed animals in meaningful settings. Then we have to separate and assign the individuals’ vocalisations. Finally, the precise timing of vocal events needs to be stored.
Microphone backpacks allow researchers to record the vocal behaviour of individual animals in naturalistic settings – even in acoustically challenging environments! In the video below, Lisa Gill, Nico Adreani and Pietro D’Amelio demonstrate the lightweight radio-transmitter microphone backpacks that have been developed and built at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Seewiesen, Department of Behavioural Neurobiology. They show the attachment and setup of this system in detail, evaluate its behavioural effects, and discuss what makes it so useful for studying vocal communication, especially in small animals.
Francesco de Bello describes the main elements of the method he has recently published in Methods in Ecology and Evolution. The method aims at decoupling and combining functional trait and phylogenetic dissimilarities between organisms. This allows for a more effective combination of non-overlapping information between phylogeny and functional traits. Decoupling trait and phylogenetic information can also uncover otherwise hidden signals underlying species coexistence and turnover, by revealing the importance of functional differentiation between phylogenetically related species.
In the video Francesco visually represents what the authors think their tool is doing with the data so you can see its potential. This method can provide an avenue for connecting macro-evolutionary and local factors affecting coexistence and for understanding how complex species differences affect multiple ecosystem functions.
In a new Methods in Ecology and Evolution podcast, the Senior Editors – Rob Freckleton, Bob O’Hara and Jana Vamosi – discuss the past, present and future of the journal. They talk about what sets it apart from other journals, their favourite articles and the kinds of papers that they would like to see more of. If you’re thinking about submitting to Methods in Ecology and Evolution, they have some advice for you as well.
DNA dietary analysis is a non-invasive tool used to identify the food consumed by vertebrates. The method relies on identifying prey DNA in the target animals’ scats. It’s especially useful for marine animals such as seals and seabirds as it is difficult to watch their feeding events.
Image from the Canon PowerShot camera with CHDK script ‘Motion Detect Plus’. The thistle flower being visited by ♀ honeybee Apis mellifera L.
Pollinators have fascinated ecologists for decades, and they have traditionally been monitored by on-site human observations. This can be a time-consuming enterprise and – more importantly – species identification and recordings of behaviour have to be registered at the time of observation. This has two complications:
While writing notes, or recording them electronically, the observer cannot continue focusing on the animal or behaviour in question.
Such data then have to be transcribed, with the risk of making transcription errors.
Bringing Monitoring into the 21st Century
Although on-site human observations have predominated, today’s widespread availability of digital monitoring equipment has enabled unique data on flower visitors to be collected. In my research, I have used a time-efficient automated procedure for monitoring flower-visiting animals – namely foraging bumblebees visiting focal white clovers and honeybees visiting thistles.
David Warton (University of New South Wales) interviews interviews Ben Stevenson (University of St Andrews) about his 2015 Methods in Ecology and Evolution paper ‘A general framework for animal density estimation from acoustic detections across a fixed microphone array’. They also discuss what Ben is currently up to, including an interesting new method for dealing with uncertain identification in capture-recapture, published in Statistical Science as ‘Trace-Contrast Models for Capture–Recapture Without Capture Histories’.
High-throughput genomic methods are increasingly used to investigate invertebrate thermal responses with greater dimensionality and resolution than previously achieved. However, corresponding methods for characterising invertebrate phenotypes are still lacking. Jacinta Kong and her co-authors propose a novel use of thermocyclers as temperature-controlled incubators for characterising invertebrate phenotypes.
Why use a thermocycler instead of current methods to characterise thermal phenotypes? In this video they outline key advantages of using a thermocycler and how a thermocycler may be used to characterise invertebrate thermal responses. When combined with existing approaches in thermal and evolutionary biology, these methods will advance our understanding of, and ability to predict, biological adaptations and responses to environmental changes.