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Animal-Borne Imaging

AVEDs were deployed in 1999 to gather detailed data on turtle diving, foraging, and social behavior. Beginning with the deployment of National Geographic’s Crittercam on both green and loggerhead turtles (1999-2004), the lab now uses several types of custom-built systems that feature a video camera (some using GoPro cameras) and a Wildlife Computers MK-10 time depth recorder that can record the GPS position of the turtle at every surfacing.

To gain long-term insights into turtle diving behavior that is not possible with AVEDs, the lab began deploying time-depth recorders (TDRs) in 2005. The small packages include the TDR, an acoustic transmitter (works through water up to 1000m), and a VHF transmitter (works through air up to 20+ km) set in syntactic foam. The combination of VHF and acoustic transmitters allows the lab to find the turtle during 5-7 day deployments to identify which habitats are being used.

 In 2005, the Heithaus lab teamed up with the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) and the Yadgalah Aboriginal Corporation to attach satellite transmitters to three female and two male loggerhead turtles. The tags gave daily positions (with an accuracy of 100s of meters) for the turtles for up to a year. The study is ongoing, with nine additional transmitters attached, to help shed light on previously unknown movements and behaviors of male turtles on and between foraging grounds and their breeding grounds.

C-POD

C-POD (Chelonia Ltd., Cornwall, U.K.) is static passive acoustic monitoring devices that detect echolocation clicks produced by odontocete cetaceans. These monitors will be used to assess spatiotemporal variation in dolphin relative abundance at a fine temporal scale in the Shark River Slough. CPODs have been deployed since May, 2017. In addition to recording vocalizations of odontocetes, CPODs also records temperature at every minute and angle-from-vertical is recorded each minute, enabling the user to check after deployment that the CPOD was deployed in a vertical position, and giving information on currents.

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Telemetry

Understanding the patterns and drivers of animal movement and habitat selection is essential knowledge for effective management and conservation.

We’ve investigated the movements and ecological roles of two of the Florida Everglades largest and most abundant estuarine apex predators, bull sharks (Carcharhinus leucas) and alligators (Alligator mississippiensis). This work has combined multiple telemetry tools (i.e., passive acoustic and satellite transmitters) with multi-tissue stable isotope analyses to assess how behavior and trophic interactions vary within and among individuals and

species and across environmental conditions. In addition, we have used Argos satellite tags to quantify the movements and home ranges of alligators in both the freshwater marsh and coastal estuary habitat of the southern Everglades. These satellite tags have revealed finer scale movements without the constraints of an acoustic array design.


In Africa, we are using both VHF and GPS/Argos transmitters to better understand crocodile movement ecology and habitat selection. West African slender-crocodiles are one of the most Critically Endangered species in the world, but before we can start reintroducing captive bred individuals into the wild, we need to better understand their habitat requirements and natural survival. We use VHF telemetry to follow slender-snouted crocodiles in Cote d’Ivoire’s Tai National Park and, in collaboration with our Ghanaian collaborators of the NGO THRESCOAL, looking to see how movement and habitat selection parameters change in unprotected areas. Nile crocodiles are one of Africa’s largest apex predators and enter into conflict with local communities throughout much of their distribution. We are using GPS-Argos transmitters in Gabon to better understand how Nile crocodiles move through human-dominated landscapes, and use both freshwater and nearshore marine environments.

Also in Africa, we are using VHF telemetry to better understand pangolin resource selection. Pangolins are among the least known mammals in the world and have thus far proven very difficult for researchers to detect and follow in the forest. We are tagging black-bellied and giant pangolins in protected areas in Cote d’Ivoire to better understand their habitat selection. And, by doing focal follows on tagged pangolins, we are able to better understand their prey selection – which may serve as a more visible index for pangolin ecological monitoring.

 In the Gulf of Mexico, movements of Bryde’s whales are measured through the deployment of satellite telemetry tags on encountered individuals. These tags are attached to the whale and utilize ARGOS satellite communications to transmit locations of the individual for periods of 30-50 days. Tags are deployed and attached using the “LIMPET” minimally invasive attachment housing. We also use Wildlife Computers SPOT-6 position-only tags which can provide location information at higher resolution. The satellite tags will provide information on animal location approximately daily for the length of the deployment to evaluate individual movements and habitat use.

The data provided by the tags help us to define the habitat use patterns for Bryde’s whales. By having a better understanding of their spatial movements and critical habitats, we can help the management and recovery of the Gulf of Mexico population. 

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Drones

Drones (UAVs) have grown in popularity over the last few years.  They were primarily used by recreational hobbyists and filmmakers, however, rapid advances in UAV technologies along with an expanding variety of models have caught the attention of many other users and found their utility in a wide range of applications. 

The science world recognized the potential for using drones as research tools early on, especially once the autonomous flight capabilities were developed.  The ability to upload detailed flight plans has allowed researchers to have a repeatable way to survey a variety of landscapes as well as make observations from a variety of viewpoints that may have otherwise been unobtainable. 

VR/Video Monitoring

Video surveys are an increasingly used method to survey the marine environment. In addition to being non-invasive, these techniques provide insights on species’ behavior, habitat selection and spatial distributions. However, the question often remains “what are you missing just outside of the camera’s field of view?” Using newly developed full-spherical camera technology, we are finally beginning to answer this very question. By filming with 6 independent cameras, we are able to render videos with a complete 360-degree horizontal by 360-degree vertical field of view, enabling a fully-immersive virtual reality experience. Using this emerging technology, we hope to develop educational materials that engage viewers in a way never before possible, while also advancing the use of video technologies to study marine ecosystems.

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eDNA

Environmental (e)DNA is a cutting-edge technique through which DNA may be extracted from water samples facilitating species detection. Utilization of such technology enables effective deployment of limited conservation resources simply by eliminating the need for extensive man-hours in the field. Through the use of (e)DNA, we are developing a low-cost, time-efficient detection/monitoring protocol to rapidly detect and survey four reclusive, cryptic species – the Critically Endangered West African slender-snouted crocodile, Endangered pygmy hippopotamus, Endangered West African dwarf crocodile, and Vulnerable West African manatee.  By additionally combining (e)DNA sampling with metabarcoding techniques, we’re expanding the utility of our samples to detect virtually any species present in this environment.