Just snap it! Using Digital Cameras to Discover What Birds Eat

Post provided by Davide Gaglio and Richard Sherley

Digital photography has revolutionised the way we view ourselves, each other and our environment. The use of automated cameras (including camera traps) in particular has provided remarkable opportunities for biological research. Although mostly used for recreational purposes, the development of user-friendly, versatile auto-focus digital single lens reflex (DSLR) cameras allows researchers to collect large numbers of high quality images at relatively little cost.

These cameras can help to answer questions such as ‘What does that species feed its young?’ or ‘How big is this population?’, and can provide researchers with glimpses of rare events or previously unknown behaviours. We used these powerful research tools to develop a non-invasive method to assess the diets of birds that bring visible prey (e.g. prey carried in the bill or feet) back to their chicks. Continue reading

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In Vivo Micro-CT Scanning: Studying Reptiles and Amphibians from the Inside Out

POST PROVIDED BY CHRIS BROECKHOVEN, ANTON DU PLESSIS, STEPHAN G. LE ROUX, P. LE FRAS N. MOUTON AND CANG HUI

Lizards, such as these South African armadillo lizards, serve an important role as model organisms for various ecological and evolutionary studies. © Chris Broeckhoven

Lizards, such as these South African armadillo lizards, serve an important role as model organisms for various ecological and evolutionary studies. © Chris Broeckhoven

X-ray micro-computed tomography – or µCT – is a technique that uses x-rays to create high resolution cross-sections of samples. Virtual 3D models can be made from these cross-sections without destroying the original samples. Micro-CT has important applications in medical imaging and, in the biomedical field, in vivo µCT allows researchers to make virtual 3D models of the skeleton and organs of live small animals. Three-dimensional models like these could provide insight into diseases and guide the development of medicines and therapies.

In vivo µCT holds three major advantages over other methods:

  1. It allows for repeated measurements of small live animals at different times without having to sacrifice them.
  2. It eliminates variation among individuals.
  3. It can reduce the number of animals required to obtain statistically meaningful data.

A variety of commercially available µCT scanners that are optimised for scanning live animals are now available. The use of in vivo µCT in ecological and evolutionary studies, however, has greatly lagged behind its use in biomedical studies. Continue reading