What Observational Ecologists Do In the Field

Here’s a field update from Kristin Wisneski, a contributor to Observation and Ecology:

Technology aiding the opportunity for unique observations in the field

After graduating all I wanted was some time in the field, to reconnect with the plants, animals and landscapes that I missed after spending so much time in front of my computer writing my thesis. With Brett’s help and past connections to a project in Namibia, I am living 70 km outside of the capital city of Windhoek on a cattle and sheep farm and learning even more about the ways that technology can help us understand the natural world. This project uses GPS/VHF-enabled collars to track carnivores, specifically cats, through the Namibian veld. Every week, we use telemetry to locate the cats and then download their location data from the previous week. Clusters of location points signify points of interest for the cats and we visit each of these clusters to further investigate and determine if it is perhaps a feed site, water or communication post. With a study site that extends over thousands of hectares, these identified clusters bring us closer to understanding the behaviors and unique characteristics of each cat. To take this one step further, we are also testing out CyberTracker software to gather data on our observations of wildlife, their spoor (tracks) and scats. While a field notebook suffices, this software allows us to quickly jot down standardized pieces of information into a data template and then see the digitized location and notes back at the farm. With greater insight into the lives of the cats and the wildlife and livestock living with them, it is hoped that a clearer picture of the Namibian veld will be seen by both farmers and scientists. Life after Stealth Health and smartphone-assisted data collection is turning out to be quite exciting, but once I’m back in the states I can’t wait to jump back in to discovering ways to connect people, young and old, to the natural world via location, mobile and social technologies.


Checkout Kristin and Barron Orr’s contribution to Observation and Ecology here.

About Rafe

Rafe Sagarin is a marine ecologist and environmental policy analyst at the University of Arizona. In both his science and policy work, Sagarin connects basic observations of nature to issues of broad societal interest, including conservation biology, protecting public trust resources, and making responses to terrorism and other security threats more adaptable. Dr. Sagarin is a recipient of a 2011 Guggenheim Fellowship and has recently published two books, Learning from the Octopus (Basic Books, March 2012) and Observation and Ecology (Island Press, July 2012), which show how nature observation--when extended across large scales and enhanced with both new technologies and greater deference to traditional knowledge sources—is revealing profound new insights about our dynamic social and ecological world. He was a Geological Society of America Congressional Science Fellow in the office of U.S. Representative (and later U.S. Secretary of Labor) Hilda Solis. He has taught ecology and environmental policy at Duke University, California State University Monterey Bay, Stanford University, University of California, Los Angeles and University of Arizona. His research has appeared in Science, Nature, Conservation Biology, Ecological Monographs, Trends in Ecology and Evolution, Foreign Policy, Homeland Security Affairs and other leading journals, magazines, and newspapers. He is the editor, with Terence Taylor of the volume Natural Security: A Darwinian Approach to a Dangerous World (2008, University of California Press).
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