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

Scat Collection Protocols for Dietary DNA Metabarcoding

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.

In the video below, Julie McInnes describes scat collection protocols that she (along with Rachael Alderman, Bruce Deagle, Mary-Anne Lea, Ben Raymond and Simon Jarman) developed to optimise the detection of food DNA in vertebrate scat samples. The authors use the shy albatross to demonstrate their new methods.

Continue reading

High-Res Camera Surveys of Wildlife Colonies: The advantages over traditional approaches

Post provided by ALISTAIR HOBDAY (senior principal research scientist, CSIRO Australia), Tim Lynch (senior research scientist, CSIRO, Australia) and Rachael Alderman (wildlife biologist, Tasmanian Department of Primary Industry, Parks, Water and Environment, Australia).

Cameras and wildlife monitoring

A Gigapan camera setup to record images of an albatross colony. ©Alistair Hobday

A Gigapan camera setup to record images of an albatross colony. ©Alistair Hobday

Behavioural and ecological research and monitoring of wildlife populations are based on collection of field data. Demographic data, such as breeding frequency, birth rates and juvenile survival, have been critical in understanding population trends for a wide range of species.

Photography has been extensively used by field biologists and ecologists to gather these data and they have been quick to take up improvements in this technology. Many field programmes today use photography either for primary data collection or the communication of results. Advances in digital photography, image storage and transmission, image processing software and web-based dissemination of images have been extremely rapid in recent years, offering ecologists and biologists a range of powerful tools.

Digital imagery has been captured from a wide range of platforms, each of which has various advantages and limitations for biological study. The most remote images are captured from satellite-based sensors, which have been used to assess population abundance of large animals, such as elephant seals, or locate colonies of emperor penguins. Cameras mounted on aircraft can also provide large-scale perspectives but both of these platforms suffer from high cost, operational limitations due to weather, and limited temporal replication. Recent use of drones, while cheaper, still requires a person to be close to the survey location and can only be used in short bursts, typically lasting less than 20 minutes.

Land-based cameras – or those fixed onto animals – can track behaviour closely, but have low sample size as data tends to be collected at the scale of individual or small groups. To improve replication, fleets of remote cameras can be used or multiple images stitched together post hoc to form a montage. However, this increases cost, either for hardware or labour to manually construct panoramas. To date all these camera systems have had limits to their spatial and/or temporal resolution and, therefore, to the number of individuals covered. This restricts biological study at the population level. Continue reading

Issue 6.10

Issue 6.10 is now online!

The October issue of Methods is now online!

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

letsR: A package for the R statistical computing environment, designed to handle and analyse macroecological data such as species’ geographic distributions and environmental variables. It also includes functions to obtain data on species’ habitat use, description year and current as well as temporal trends in conservation status.

Cleaning Oil from Seabirds: The authors assess the efficacy of sea water as an alternative to fresh water for cleaning oil from seabirds’ feathers. Results indicate that for oiled feathers, a sea water wash/rinse produced clean, low BAI/unclumped feathers with minimal particulate residue.

Stefano Canessa et al. provide this month’s only Open Access article. In ‘When do we need more data? A primer on calculating the value of information for applied ecologists‘ the authors guide readers through the calculation of Value of Information (VoI) using two case studies and illustrate the use of Bayesian updating to incorporate new information. Collecting information can require significant investments of resources; VoI analysis assists managers in deciding whether these investments are justified. The authors also wrote a blog post on VoI which you can find here.

Our October issue also features articles on Niche Modelling, Population Ecology, Spatial Ecology, Conservation, Monitoring and much more. Continue reading

National Wildlife Day 2015

Happy National Wildlife Day everyone!

Today is 10th National Wildlife Day. As we have done for a few awareness days this year (Bats, Biodiversity and Bees so far) we are marking the day by highlighting some of our favourite Methods in Ecology and Evolution articles on the subject. Obviously ‘wildlife’ is a pretty big topic, so we have narrowed our focus (slightly) to monitoring wildlife (with one or two additional papers that we didn’t want to leave out).

This list is certainly not exhaustive and there are many more wonderful articles on these topics in the journal. You can see more of them on the Wiley Online Library.

If you would like to learn more about National Wildlife Day, you may wish to visit the organisation’s website, follow them on Twitter and Facebook or check out today’s hashtag: #NationalWildlifeDay.

Without further ado though, please enjoy our selection of Methods articles for National Wildlife Day:

Integrating Demographic Data

Our National Wildlife Day celebration begins with an article from our EURING Special Feature. Robert Robinson et al. present an approach which allows important demographic parameters to be identified, even if they are not measured directly, in ‘Integrating demographic data: towards a framework for monitoring wildlife populations at large spatial scales‘. Using their approach they were able to retrieve known demographic signals both within and across species and identify the demographic causes of population decline in Song Thrush and Lawping.


Continue reading