Imagine getting an alert on your Blackberry because a two-tied sloth had just died in Panama.
The March 29 Lunch ‘n Learn featured Martin Wikelski and Axel Haenssen discussing an Automated Radio-Tracking of Rainforest Animals. Four years in the making, this enormous interdisciplinary effort has established and maintained a high-tech observatory for animals in a tropical rainforest. The effort involved capturing and tagging ocelots, mice, coati, paca, agouti, spiny rats, iguana, and two- and three-toed sloths on Barro Colorado Island in Panama and then, with numerous radio receivers, tracking their movements. As a result, we have a better understanding of their interaction, their reproduction, as well as their social and predation activities.
Seven large radio towers, including several in the understory, have been used to monitor and track the animals. The team confronted many obstacles, from sorting and analysis of massive amounts of data to maintaining electrical equipment despite frequent power outages in a tropical environment.
The data permits researchers to chart daily activity rhythms of animals in the wild. The ocelot, for example, is nocturnal. Agoutis are diurnal. For the first time, the team observed a strong selection against nighttime activity among some species. Interactions among and between species were plotted. The team discovered that some species thought to live only in the rainforest canopy do indeed come to the ground, something they do not do when they are observed.
Other advantages include knowing now precisely where to observe the animals.
The effort will hopefully be sustained and become part a global animal and plant database combining often charismatic animals with new technologies for research and education.
An associate professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Martin Wikelski investigates the physiological mechanisms of life histories in wild organism. Axel Haenssen works as information technology specialist in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton and established the cyberinfrastructure necessary for the Automated Radio Telemetry System project.
Dr. Wikelski’s presentation may be viewed here.
Posted by Lorene Lavora