Written by Joseph Bailey
Photo Courtesy of Hannah Thomas
We are now well over half way through the season in Madagascar and spatial ecology and mapping techniques have been used across a wide range of research projects at the Operation Wallacea site. This post gives a fleeting overview of just some of the spatial work happening here. As well as the three spatial ecology dissertation students here, a great many other dissertation projects have required some spatial data and/or methods, which are briefly outlined below. We have also established a network of 18 camera traps. The value of GIS (geographic information systems) is demonstrated throughout. Indeed, maps provide arguably the most effective means by which to communicate ecological and conservation research to the scientific community and conservation practitioners.
After the success of last year’s camera trap network, we have this year placed two camera traps on each of the five main routes around the Mariarano base camp, and several more around the camp at Matsedroy. They operate day and night (using an infrared flash) and take three photographs when movement is detected. Last year’s photograph of the rear end of the elusive fossa (pron. foo-sa) provided inordinate motivation for this year’s efforts. The traps were deployed in week three and will be collected at the start of the final week (six), hopefully with many exciting images stored on the SD cards!
The three spatial ecology dissertation students are looking at a diverse range of topics: bird communities and forest fragmentation, and the distributions and diversity of reptiles and of lemurs in relation to a range of environmental metrics. Work such as this on the reptiles and lemurs revolves around species distribution modelling (SDM) and relates know species locations to the environment. The results can be used to predict species distributions in unknown spaces (e.g. surveyed areas) and times (e.g. in a future, warmer climate), as well as to better understand why certain species are found where they are in the present. Meanwhile, the forest fragmentation study aims to establish the extent to which the forest configuration affects the bird communities. This study also explicitly considers the distance of a bird point count (the main survey technique for collecting bird data) from the edge of the forest.
Outside of the explicitly spatial projects, other research has necessitated GIS input. The sifaka behaviour dissertation students used GPS devices to accurately map the village boundary; something that had not been done in previous years. The resultant map will help them understand the effect of the proximity of the village on observed lemur behaviour. It would also be useful to map the village year-on-year to understand the extent to which (if at all) the village is changing. Elsewhere, research into mouse lemurs required an accurate map of the forest edge, so that distance from the forest edge over approximately 3km could be related to mouse lemur observations and behaviour.
Spatial data and methods have therefore assisted across a range of research efforts at the Madagascar site, demonstrating the importance of GIS and remote sensing in ecology and conservation research and practise.