The movements of individuals can already be studied by putting a GPS on the owls. However, these devices are very costly, which limits the number of individuals studied. Moreover, the device is energy-greedy and can only record for a few days. Then, the owl has to be caught again to obtain the data. The results of those analyses are expressed in term of habitat use, predation behavior, home range, in the broad area of animal movement ecology (view some results of the GPS tracking).
Our idea is to produce a large number of low-cost devices that could be put on every nest box in the study area (about 400) to record the visits of tagged individuals (using RFID technique). We could then obtain information about the pre-breeding behavior of the owls, the use of the nestboxes by breeding or non-breeding individuals during the year, the dispersion behavior of the chicks, or the social interactions of individuals around the breeding sites.
Once developed, this device could be adapted by any animal ecology scientist to suit their studied species (cavity-nesting birds, small mammals nesting in holes, …). Such a device should prove very valuable to all scientists performing animal population monitoring. Indeed, it could be used to study individual tracks and thus infer information about individual behavior (movements, nesting behavior, dispersion), social behavior (intensity, frequency, social network). Using individual recapture, one is also able to reconstruct population parameters such as individual survival, dispersion, and population size, thus allowing to make important assumption about population trends.
Who is involved?
Octanis, an EPFL association, will undertake device engineering and development. The Barn Owls group research of Alexandre Roulin at UNIL contributes the requirements and will be the first to use it in the field. Furthermore, the RFIC lab at EPFL will be available to supervise the semester project of a Master student within the scope of the smart nestbox development.
Having a need for monitoring the weight fluctuation of owls, the Swiss Ornithological Institute (Vogelwarte Sempach) expressed their interest in adapting the Octanis Nesbox device to perform automatic weight measurements. The devices will be used as part of a PhD thesis conducted at the institute, for which batch of 40 devices will be ready to be installed for the winter season 2018/19.
Would you like to help us build and test the prototype? Get in touch with us by sending an email to email@example.com . We are currently looking for motivated students willing to dedicate their semester project or spare time to a challenge within Octanis 3.