Guest blogger: Robin Southon, MSc Animal Behaviour, Exeter University, UK
When our group from Exeter first arrived in Phana, we decided to familiarise ourselves with the forest and macaques by conducting a time budget analysis of the population. This is a common technique in animal behaviour, and would allow us to learn how individuals, separated by age and sex, differ in daily activity, taking into account the time of day, habitat and location. This investigatory study would then allow us to ask more narrowly defined questions from observation. Two problems arose from this: (a) we wished to randomly sample our population, but had no idea of the macaque distribution or forest layout, and (b) we did not know what habitats occurred on site. To tackle this problem, we would need to create a map of the forest, which would then allow us to overlay a randomisation grid, in addition to showing us local habitat types. This would not only help us with the time budget analysis, but provide the Phana Macaque Project with a map and an initial assessment of the habitats located on site.
As is typical in research, it was not so simple, and another problem arose. The only source map we had of the site was a low-pixelated image from google.com map service. However, this at least gave us a rough outline of the site, and luck was at hand in the form of a tape measure and GPS device. Using the GPS device, the distances of the paths and parameter of the site was recorded, with shorter distances recorded using the tape measure, due to the +/- error of 5 to 10metres of the GPS device. These measurements were then pieced together using ImageJ, a rather handy tool from http://rsbweb.nih.gov/ij/. The result was our first attempt at accurately mapping the forest. It may not be the prettiest of maps, but it did the job of providing us an outline for our random samples, and landmark awareness for locating the grids.
The map then needed to be filled in with habitat types. To do this certain elements normally used to conduct British Phase I Habitat Surveys was used, but differed slightly due to the situation on site and local habitat descriptions. Doing a walkover of the site a judgement of habitat coverage was taken, documented in detail, and a habitat map produced. The only thing missing from the documentation is inclusion of a personal risk assessment… seing that you are most likely to get sunburnt on the open bare ground, mobbed by macaques on the hardstanding, thrown off your bike by vines in the woodland, and attacked by various sharp-thorned plants in the dense high scrub!
(CLICK on the image below to get a larger view.)
Now that we have a Phase I guide to the site, what’s next? The obvious next step would be to conduct a more detailed assessment of the habitats in our grid locations by placing transects and taking samples of flora & fauna, along with tree surveys, but we are limited at the moment due to the lack of knowledge on the local flora. That will hopefully be solved with help from the forestry department, and because we have the map and the grid location from our time budget data, we can then match the time budget and habitat data together. Another more immediate possible study to conduct is to plot the macaque population distribution onto the map, which then might be useful as a guide for knowing how the population disperses throughout the day.
I hope this small informal report sheds some light on what is happening within the Phana Macaque Project, and we hope to report on some more detailed data later on in the process. Thanks for reading.