Originally trained as a chemist, I've spent time in industry and was an environmental consultant for 20 years, and now enjoy combining the inventing of electronic gadgets, sensors and wireless systems with my passion for environmental conservation. I have specific interests in eco-hydrology, plants and micro-lepidoptera and the application of technology in science.
Tracking small mammals
Tracking wood mice Apodemus sylvaticus in the wild is one of the hardest challenges I have ever undertaken. Wild small mammals such as mice, voles and shrews are studied in many research fields. Many of these studies rely on a traditional capture-mark-recapture approach, which involves repeated live-trapping over a period of time usually days to weeks. However, live-trapping is indiscriminate, leading to many captures that are not strictly necessary for scientific purposes, including recaptures of the same individuals or the trapping of non-target species such as shrews. Moreover, live-trapping is suboptimal for animal welfare, as time spent in traps can cause adverse health effects or increased mortality.
My part in this NC3Rs funded project headed by Dr Sarah Knowles is to design, build and optimise two cost-effective novel devices based on RFID technology that aim to reduce the number of animals used in this type of research, refine their experience, and enable higher quality scientific data to be collected from the animals involved.
The first device is a long range (30cm) spatial RFID logger, which records the presence of PIT tagged animals when they pass a detector. These loggers have very low power consumption, a real time clock, on-board memory and a wireless link and can be left in the field for many months, collecting high resolution data on the whereabouts of tagged individuals without the need for repeated trapping, radio-tracking or human interference. We are currently using these loggers in a trial at Wytham Woods and the spatial and temporal data recorded to date is showing really exciting results.
The second device is an intelligent trap. The intelligent trap has two functions. a) It will allow us to selectively trap only those individuals required according to both body mass and ID. This allows us to exclude tagged animals that are not required, exclude animals outside the weight range of the target species such as juveniles, exclude non-target species such as shrews, or trap those individuals as yet un-tagged. b) The trap can be used to obtain faecal samples from individuals by temporarily trapping a known individual for a short period of time before releasing it again without the need for handling.
The data collected from these devices will be applied to studies of the gut microbiome to investigate to what extent does social contact (in this case, sharing of burrows sites) permit transmission of gut microbes, how mice and voles utilise space within their habitat, seasonal and stimulus driven population changes, and temporal-spatial dynamics of mouse behaviour.
With the spread and increase of ash-dieback Hymenoscyphus fraxineus in our woodlands it is a unique time to study the effects of ash dieback on woodland ecology. As part of a multi-collaborator four year research project headed by Prof. Yadvinder Malhi and Dr Cecilia Dahlsjö (School of Geography and the Environment) I will be building fifteen micro-climate stations to measure changes in below-canopy conditions as the disease progresses. The micro-climate stations will be connected to the woodland wireless mesh system I developed allowing real-time observation of woodland air temperatures, relative humidity, light, UVA and UVB, rainfall and soil temperatures. Some of these data will be made available online.
Selected past projects:
Wytham Laboratory with Leaves. Part 5 The Fen
Earth Trust River of Life - Large scale award winning wetland habitat creation within the River Thames floodplain.
River of Life I
River of Life II