Determining the relationship between an animal's behaviour and its environment is fundamental in assessing how it can be effectively protected. As habitats change through both environmental variation and anthropogenic influence, the effects on the species within these habitats is often unclear.
Researchers would ideally gather information on the behaviour of individual organisms around the clock, assessing their response to changing environmental conditions and to the behaviour of other organisms. However, most current ecological methods rely on the many man-hours provided by both scientists and volunteers using manual records and visual observation, making it impossible to monitor at such a resolution. Moreover, making this process less error-prone can be complex and time-consuming.
Modern computational and technological techniques provide the tools for accurate and continuous monitoring of large spatial environments and the animals that inhabit them. By simultaneously recording behaviour from multiple individuals and the condition of their environment, researchers can begin to answer pertinent questions about the complex relationship between these animals, their environment and humankind.
Carefully designed systems should allow researchers to adapt their research as needed, rather than only allowing them to specify initial design goals. Projects adapt over time and useful technologies must be able to account for these changes without undue expense and effort.
Working closely with Oxford University, we are currently addressing a specific area - the spatial ecology of the Manx Shearwater. The Manx Shearwater is a highly pelagic seabird that relies on the complex oceanic ecosystems that it visits during its long foraging trips. As such, not only is it's behaviour indicative of the health of these systems, but identifying these foraging grounds is fundamental to effective conservation of the Manx Shearwater itself.
Moreover, the Manx Shearwater has very similar behaviour to a number of other Procelariiforme seabirds, and investigating the behaviour and ecology of the Manx Shearwater has broader scope for the conservation of other birds in this order.
Using sensors developed with the Freie Universität Berlin in concert with innovative software developed at Microsoft Research Cambridge we have created a system to allow researchers to address these aims. This close collaboration provides the project with support and scope to bring these ideas to fruition: leveraging novel computational tools to enable scientists to conducts new kinds of science.