December 2010

November in Panama: cooler weather, heavy rainy season, low fruit production, and stressed animals. This is also the time of the year when agoutis go back and eat their cached seeds. This year, the agoutis depleted most of their caches by the end of November. The bulk of seeds were eaten in July, August, and September. This also means that we don’t have many seeds left in the ground. After continuously following 222 seeds over the past six months, we now only have 18 seeds remaining. It also means that we don’t have much remaining work for the project’s chief field assistant; Sumana Serchan. In November, Sumana packed up the lab, helped clean up two years of accumulated mess, did one last big census of caches (from both 2009 and 2010) and left BCI. While Sumana will surely be missed on BCI, I’m sure her friends and family in Vermont are happy to see her back home. The entire agouti seed dispersal project crew thanks Sumana for her hard work and dedication! While the project doesn’t have any full time members living on BCI (for the first time since October 2008), that doesn’t mean the project has stopped entirely. We still have a few seeds left to monitor! Seed checking duties are now being taken over by Jose Alejandro Silva Ramirez (or Alejo for short) who has worked with us tracking agoutis and Dipteryx seeds in 2009. Alejo was also a superstar tamandua catcher while working with Danielle Brown on her dissertation thesis project. We promise Alejo that monitoring and tracking the remaining seed caches will not involve any animals attempting to gouge him with sharp claws. Anyway, we welcome Alejo, and are excited to see what, if anything, happens to the remaining seeds over the coming months.


Sumana in the field




Alejo with tamandua

  • Here is the STRI Newsletter piece on the ARTS lab closing down.

    Animal trackers move on from towers to satellites and cameras

    The Automated Radio Telemetry System (ARTS) on STRI’s Barro Colorado Island (BCI) is taking down its towers used to track animals with radio-transmitters and switching to GPS and camera trap systems that produce more data with less infrastructure.

    Experiences with ARTS over the last eight years on BCI have led to the development of new technologies, including the miniaturization of GPS tracking devices, revolutionary camera trap monitoring techniques, a Smithsonian repository of camera trap images, and a global archive of animal tracking data

    BCI is famous as a training ground for pioneer ecological research systems that allow scientists to ask new questions. In 2003, researchers Roland Kays (New York State Museum) and Martin Wikelski (Princeton University, now at the Max Plank Institute) founded an experimental Automated Radio Telemetry System (ARTS) to track the activity and movement of animals wearing small radio-transmitters. According to Kays, “at that time tracking options were limited because GPS devices were so large they were carried by surveyors in backpacks and camera traps were limited to rolls of 36-exposure film.”

    With support from the National Geographic Society and the Levinson and National Science Foundations, Kays and Wikelski brought a team of specialists to BCI to erect a network of seven towers that streamed live data on the location and activity of animals that had been fitted with small, inexpensive radio transmitters. Since then, the ARTS has been used to track 374 individuals from 38 species, including 17 mammal species, 12 birds, seven reptiles or amphibians, and two species of plant seeds. The unique data gathered by ARTS have allowed researchers to tackle previously intractable questions about the ecology and behavior of species ranging from palms and bees to monkeys, by providing a means to “see” cryptic events and track animal movements and activities over large distances and long time periods.

    However, ARTS-based tracking is limited to BCI because of its extensive infrastructure requirements, and thus researchers have also been looking past radio transmitters to new, more flexible technologies. GPS devices have been improved and miniaturized over the past three years, spurred on in part by former ARTS engineer Franz Kuemmeth (founder of E-obs GPS tracking company) and ARTS biologists, who rapidly adopted the new technology to track animals on BCI…and off. New sensors are also being developed to work in concert with GPS tags to provide detailed information about animal behavior and physiology.

    ARTS researchers also developed new methods for monitoring animal movement with camera traps. This approach was initially developed to monitor animals moving palm seeds that were being tracked by the ARTS, but is now being implemented at SIGEO sites around the globe. The BCI camera trap data are also being shared with the public through a new ‘SI Wild’ website that combines the images from ten Smithsonian camera trap studies around the world and will launch in 2011.

    Many of the most important moments in an animal’s life are hard to study because they are rare or difficult to observe. Due to the shy nature of most species, tracking animals is necessarily a high-tech enterprise. The development ARTS and related technologies on BCI over the last eight years offers another example of how STRI-supported science can help develop new fields; in this case, one where detailed data on animal movement, physiology, and behavior can be integrated to address the next generation of scientific and conservation questions.

    14 December  2010

    STRI Tupper Conference Room, Panama

    When is an animal born?  Where does it go when it leaves home? How does it die?  Many of the most important moments in an animal’s life are hard to study because they are rare or difficult to observe. Over the past 7 years, the Automated Radio Telemetry System (ARTS) on Barro Colorado Island has helped STRI scientists address many of these important questions by allowing them to “see” cryptic events and track animal movements and activities over large distances and long time-periods. Recent technological advances have now made is possible to collect ARTS-style data using satellite technology, and the ARTS initiative will soon be disassembling the original radio-telemetry based system on BCI and transitioning to GPS based tracking.  Please join us December 14th, 2010 in the STRI conference room at Tupper, to hear about how the ARTS system has improved our understanding of the behavior and ecology of  tropical vertebrates and learn about the exciting new directions we are taking with our animal tracking research.

    ARTS Science Symposium: where have we been, where are we going?

    12:30-12:55 Rodent thieves: multi-stage dispersal leads to long distance seed dispersal.

    Ben Hirsch, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute & New York State Museum

    12:55-13:20 From the pond to the forest: a glimpse into the movements and activity of the veined tree frog on BCI.

    Robert Horan, University of Georgia

    13:20-13:45 How do small groups survive? Intergroup competition and imbalances of power in white-faced capuchins.

    Meg Crofoot, STRI & MPI-O

    13:45-14:10 Better to be breakfast lunch or dinner: effect of feeding time on seed dispersal by toucans determined from GPS tags and accelerometers.

    Roland Kays, New York State Museum

    14:10-14:35 Intrapopulation niche differences: do they exist for northern tamandua anteaters?

    Danielle Brown, University of California, Davis

    14:35-15:00 Surveying forest mammals using camera traps: From BCI to SIGEO

    Patrick Jansen, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute & Wageningen University

    15:00-15:25 Sleeping on the limb- atypical sleep patterns in wild sloths.

    Bryson Voirin, Max Planck Institute for Ornithology

    15:25-16:00 Break

    16:00-17:00 From ARTS to ICARUS: perspectives on global animal tracking

    Martin Wikelski, Roland Kays, Meg Crofoot