Life in the night sky is difficult to study! What tools are available to study aeroecology? This is an ever-expanding and evolving list. The possibilities for research get even better when you mix and match multiple tools. This can improve the accuracy of your data, and can mean your results apply to a greater variety of different conditions, animals and situations. Here’s a quick tour through the toolbox:
Direct sampling: Use balloons, kites, or drones to lift nets or acoustic/video recording devices aloft.
Trapping: Use black light, pheromone, or other traps ground level to detect arrival of migratory insects. Use mist nets to capture birds or bats visiting a site.
Telemetry: Attach transmitters to animals and track individual movement. As technology improves, we can track smaller animals, even insects, for longer durations. And with the Icarus system installed on the space station, telemetry is something you’ll definitely want to keep an eye on.
Radar: A variety of radar technologies will reveal animal movement overhead, including specialized bird and insect radars as well as weather radar.
Stable isotopes: Elements such as hydrogen, carbon, and nitrogen can be traced to geographical ranges, and animals living in those areas bear the traces in their fur or other body parts. Use this to find out where a particular animal was born or spent a season.
Museum specimens: Records of what animals were found when and where can reveal clues about seasonal movement or changes in populations over time.
Predator diet analysis: Bats and birds that eat flying insects can sample for us when we examine prey remains from fecal samples using molecular sequencing and genetic databases matches.
Particle trajectory modeling: Many insects travel with the wind, and we can use models of wind trajectories to identify likely sources of pest infestations (pdf) or other migratory insect movement.
Pollen: Insect and other pollinators carry a record with them after visiting flowers. In just one example, moths captured in Texas carried citrus pollen from Mexico well before local trees were blooming.
Citizen science: Public sightings uploaded to databases such as iNaturalist or eBird can form the basis for large-scale and long-term research on animal movement.
Questions? Comments? There’s more information in the blog entries below, but please feel free to start a conversation with me on Twitter: Tweet to @batgrrl