Expert-driven development of conservation technologies to close knowledge gaps in small animal research
To decelerate the human-induced extinction of species, humanity needs to mitigate its impact and implement effective conservation measures. This requires detailed knowledge about the behaviour and ecology of species generated by suitable observation methods. Hence, both efficient data-collection met...
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|Summary:||To decelerate the human-induced extinction of species, humanity needs to mitigate its impact and implement effective conservation measures. This requires detailed knowledge about the behaviour and ecology of species generated by suitable observation methods. Hence, both efficient data-collection methods, and analysis tools are indispensable. Especially small species (<100g) are a challenge for classical field methods but also commercially available technical solutions reach their limits with decreasing body size.
This work addresses the challenge of making technologies, successfully used in current research practice, available for small animals (<100g) at low cost, and open source. The potential for successful transfer of technological developments into conservation practice and ways to ensure their continued availability are explored. To achieve these goals, this thesis addresses four research dimensions:
1. Sensor development
Tracking the movements of animals has provided ground-breaking insights into their behaviour, ecology, and interaction with their environment. Tracking involves equipping animals with different kinds of transmitters (GPS, accelerometers). However, the transmitters used are generally too heavy for small species.
One goal of this work was to develop a low-cost automated radio-tracking system, the tRackIT-system, that allows live tracking of movements, behaviour, and physiological states of small animals equipped with Very High Frequency (VHF) transmitters (weight <0.5g).
Camera traps are becoming increasingly popular in ecological research. However, their use for small animal species is limited due to the lack of sensitivity of the sensors used to trigger a recording. With the development of a multi-sensor tool (the BatRack) which combines acoustic and visual sensors with the tRackIT-system, the behaviour of small nocturnal animals (bats) can be reliably recorded. The combination of sensors also allows individuals to be recognised in video and audio recordings.
Both sensors were used to investigate the movements and behaviours of bats and songbirds and optimized for stable and permanent deployment over four years in the research forest of the Phillips-University Marburg (Marburg Open Forest (MOF)).
2. Data Analysis
Automation of environmental observation involves an increasing amount of data to be analysed. Appropriate tools for processing them are as important as the sensors themselves. In this work, various functionalities and tools, ranging from providing an exchangeable data structure to trained machine learning models for classifying behaviours in radio-tracking data and bat calls in sound recordings, were developed and made available open-source. Case studies on behaviours of different bat and songbird species demonstrate that relevant insights for conservation and ecological research can be generated using these sensors and analysis tools.
3. Practice transfer
Academically driven developments often remain at the status of prototypes, whose applicability in nature conservation practice by users with different degrees of technical expertise is not guaranteed. For the successful transfer to conservation practice, certain requirements must be met. The hardware and software must function reliably even under adverse field conditions, and access barriers such as the requirement of technical knowledge for implementation or costs must be kept low. In addition, the application range should be as diverse as possible.
The applicability of the tRackIT-system for various conservation-related issues was verified by two field tests. Firstly, wader chicks were tracked to be able to determine time and cause of their death with high temporal resolution. Secondly, it was tested whether the system can substitute labour-intensive and error prone manual methods in the context of environmental assessments in advance of the construction of wind turbines.
Both tests were a success in terms of saving labour and improving the data basis for conservation research and practice.
4. Long-term availability of technologies
One reason for the poor uptake of academically developed promising technologies in conservation research and practice results from the fact that technical support for users often ceases after the corresponding projects have ended. One way to ensure continued support and improvement of the technologies is to establish a company that provides this support as a service and drives further development.
The foundation of tRackIT-Systems company is supported by the EXIST program of the Federal Ministry of Economics and Climate Protection. The long-term access to the existing and future developments will thus be secured.
From the definition of demands to a user-oriented and feedback-driven development of permanently available products, this work realises all criteria for successful conservation technologies.|
|Physical Description:||182 Pages|