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 Post subject: Borneo Dispatches #64: Roadcruising Study (HELP REQUEST!)
PostPosted: January 11th, 2013, 5:52 am 
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Joined: June 8th, 2010, 2:19 am
Posts: 3179
Location: Kuching, Sarawak (Borneo)
The spirits that I called have finally taken over my herping life. Long before I moved to Borneo, I had infrequent email exchanges with Indraneil Das, a man who's probably forgotten more about the herps of South and Southeast Asia than I'll ever learn, and who conveniently lives two miles from my house, as he teaches and researches at a local university (Universiti of Malaysia, Sarawak). Neil is from India, but chose Sarawak as his stomping grounds to be at the front lines of all the wonderful discoveries to be made in Borneo. The island still contains enormous areas where no man has ever gone before, and even the developed areas are woefully under-researched. As I've mentioned before, Neil's grad students regularly come back from their field trips laden with bags full of unidentified reptiles and amphibians, and even his seven-year old son discovered (= almost stepped on) a snake new to science a while ago, in a national park 20 minutes outside Kuching.

What with all the stuff sitting in jars on Neil's desk, waiting to be described, he is a very busy scientist indeed, but last December I finally managed to drag him and his son into my car for a spot of roadcruising. Like most herpetologists, Neil is at heart an eleven-year old holding a pillow case with something squirming inside, and he visibly enjoyed the trip (it was also a chance to show off his considerable mojo - five snakes in two hours, all of them really good stuff).
On the way back, he threw me a bomb in a matter-of-factly tone: "You know, since you're doing this all the time anyway, why don't you turn it into a proper science project? You could call it 'A Long-term Survey of the Serpentofaunal Biodiversity in a Mixed Second Generation Lowland Forest and the Impact of Vehicular Traffic Therein, Using a Through Road as a Transect'. Or something along those lines, haha."

As much as I'm fascinated with science, I've never been scientist material. If I could start all over again, I still wouldn't want to become a biologist. All that wrestling for grant money, the clashing with the political goals of non-scientist decision makers, and the constant, petty in-fights among the peers would drive me potty in no time. But this was different. Since I'm neither tethered to any institutional coffers or requirements, I could take my own sweet time to prepare and conduct the study. So I agreed, and Neil went to work on me right away: not only did he give me private tutorials on data sheet design, snake sexing and instrument handling, but also a mountain of PDFs and books, with "Reptile Biodiversity: Standard Methods for Inventory and Monitoring" being the main tool. I managed to read that entire tome during my two-week Christmas holiday in Taiwan, and the more I learned, the more I realized how little I actually know. My laziness-induced fallacy of reading mostly pop-science material came back to bite me in the ass: looking up technical terms most of you scientific folks have known since your freshman years, invariably led to more unknown terms I found in the explanations (see footnote [1]).

But somehow I managed to wade through it all, and last Saturday I began fieldwork in earnest. Neil came along to show me the ropes, and while the mistakes I made were more numerous than the snakes we found (taking a GPS reading and forgetting to save it; recording the wrong temp/humidity values; forgetting to take photos of the animals, and other assorted bloopers), I'm encouraged by my progress and convinced it can only go uphill from here.

Now, a bumbling amateur like me couldn't wish for a more patient and more generous tutor than Neil Das, but I would still like to tap into the collective wisdom that is this forum. I'd be very grateful if those of you experienced in projects like this could give me a few pointers, dispense some general wisdom, or at least share some stories about some of the things that can and will go wrong :-)

Thanks very much in advance!!

Hans, Citizen Scientist (what a horrible, patronizing term!)

[1] Example: just try to educate yourself about Lanthanotus, and you'll quickly run into ten-foot-thick walls like this:
The mosasauroid-snake clade (Pythonomorpha) is corroborated by 40 derived characters, including recumbent replacement teeth, thecodonty, four or fewer premaxillary teeth, supratemporal-prootic contact, free mandibular tips, crista circumfenesttalis, straight vertical splenioangular joint, loss of posterior ramus of the coronoid, reduced basipterygoid processes, reduced interpterygoid vacuity, zygosphene-zygantral articulations, and absence of epiphyses on the axial skeleton and skull.


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #63: Roadcruising Study (HELP REQUEST!
PostPosted: January 11th, 2013, 5:55 am 
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Joined: June 8th, 2010, 2:19 am
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Location: Kuching, Sarawak (Borneo)
<edited>


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #63: Roadcruising Study (HELP REQUEST!
PostPosted: January 11th, 2013, 7:24 am 
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Joined: June 9th, 2010, 6:38 am
Posts: 201
Location: Canada
I don't have much input, but I would love to come help out! Sounds like fun!


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #63: Roadcruising Study (HELP REQUEST!
PostPosted: January 11th, 2013, 9:19 am 
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Joined: November 23rd, 2011, 8:26 am
Posts: 372
Location: London, United Kingdom
I wish I had the equipment and tutor to help me do that :(


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #63: Roadcruising Study (HELP REQUEST!
PostPosted: January 11th, 2013, 1:53 pm 
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Joined: June 11th, 2010, 5:01 am
Posts: 516
Location: Louisiana
Conducting a road-cruising study to ascertain biological aspects of each species you encounter, and, general trends in snake activity patterns in the area of study -- I think this would be your statement of study. Your experimental design should be specified, and be randomized to some degree: 1) snakes will be located by driving these particular roads beginning at 15 minutes after official sunset, in the same vehicle type (height above ground, lumination, etc), at speeds of x-y km/hr. 2) drives will be conducted the second and fifth day of each week, throughout the year, for two yeats. Data to be recorded should include 1) species, sex, size class, 2) air temperature, humidity, time from start, barometric pressure, rainfall (including recent cumulative), number of cars passed (affects DOR count), moon phase (believe it or not, effects even tropical species), adjacent habitat, etc.

There are hundreds of potential combinations of ecological/non-ecological variables that will affect snake observations and activity, and (not to be discouraging) it would take hundreds of survey nights to begin to obtain parametric, or statistically testable data. For example...

1) whether a species is a road basker or road racer
2) traffic (was there a big Ramadan event down the road that night; or as we have in the U.S., Saturday night barroom traffic)
3) was there a drought two years ago that hit aquatic species
4) did you start on the north end of the road tonight, rather than south end
5) did you spend an hour stopped to photograph a Lanthanotus, as opposed to normal 75 minute survey time
6) is that DOR fresh, or maybe hit midafternoon

You might also note whether or not there were other things out that night, such as unusually high numbers of frogs or rodents or some arthropod bloom.

Done for now to prevent temporal eradication,

Jeff


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #63: Roadcruising Study (HELP REQUEST!
PostPosted: January 11th, 2013, 3:40 pm 
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Joined: June 7th, 2010, 2:00 pm
Posts: 525
Location: Huntsville, AL
you still use the gmail account? if so I just sent you some methodology


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #64: Roadcruising Study (HELP REQUEST!
PostPosted: January 14th, 2013, 7:31 am 

Joined: June 8th, 2010, 1:17 am
Posts: 136
As Jeff rightly said:
Quote:
There are hundreds of potential combinations of ecological/non-ecological variables that will affect snake observations and activity, and (not to be discouraging) it would take hundreds of survey nights to begin to obtain parametric, or statistically testable data.


As you know, one of the biggest problems for many tropical species is seeing the same snake twice. The fact is, you might roadcruise an awful lot of bornean short-tailed pythons (theoretically speaking), but in your 2 years of study, you may ecounter no more than 1 specimen of many species. What this means is the following:

You will probably be able to draw some conclusions from your final results - remember the importance of statistical testing here (anything from ANOVA to chi-squared test). I do have some first-year university notes on these. In case you are interested in them, leave me a message. However, such conclusions will be limited (probably) to all of the snakes and another variable as a whole. What I mean is: Can you provide statistical evidence to justify that there is a signficant difference in the NUMBER OF SNAKES or the NUMBER OF SPECIES OF SNAKES between young secondary forest/mature secondary forest/primary forest (define each - consider altitude). Your conclusions would be limited to the total no. of snakes, or simply the overall diversity/no. of species of snakes. You may have a few cases where you can say stuff about a single species (one you encounter pretty darn often). However, for most snakes, you will probably not be able to draw any individual conclusions (insufficient data to justify the conclusion statistically). I did a study very much like this, but then with spiders dwelling in the leaf-litter LOL! The fact is, I did my study when I was maybe 16 years old, and the kind of stuff you ecounter can be fantastic. I found a number of spiders still unknown to science, other spiders were simply very rare finds, and then there were other things as well (like finding a new locale for various species). OF course, it was equally fantastic to meet and speak with many great biologists about my study. The fact is - it may be hard work, but its great fun!

That said, I would always note certain observations (maybe in the appendix, maybe elsewhere) to account for things you may not be able to justify sufficiently. To give an example: I know the A. mycterizans prefers to sleep about 1-2 meters off in the ground in vegetation overhanging streams at night. I'd have to go into the forest a lot just to actually provide scientific evidence - something I do not do, because I don't have the time (unfortunately). But, I doesn't hurt to note these kinds of observations - They can always provide a starting point from where another scientist can in fact do his/her research! Of course, most scientists would dwindle these kinds of observations down to: something either very unique/peculiar (A brown tree skink diving into water to feed on aquatic animals), or something observed multiple times (like my A. mycterizans case). The reason is clear - you could otherwise write a whole book on observations. The problem is that the observations you choose to write down are CHOSEN by you (see the bias).

--David G


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #64: Roadcruising Study (HELP REQUEST!
PostPosted: January 14th, 2013, 10:10 am 
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Joined: June 7th, 2010, 4:07 pm
Posts: 592
Location: Hillsdale County, Michigan
It sounds like a good data sheet would help with some of the problems you had. Just fill in all the blanks and you won't forget things like GPS coordinates. Good luck with the project. Sounds fun.






Curtis


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #64: Roadcruising Study (HELP REQUEST!
PostPosted: January 16th, 2013, 9:04 pm 
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Joined: June 29th, 2012, 5:08 pm
Posts: 48
Location: Lexington, Kentucky
What a wonderful opportunity. I envy you being in the middle of a herpetological frontier. My suggestion is that you find yourself a problem that can be addressed through the road cruising method. This can be done in two, mutually reinforcing, ways. Use DavididGs recommendations try to find a pattern and then try to find an explanation for your observations, and look for questions in the literature that you think you can illuminate through road cruising. Notice that I used illuminate rather than answer here because looking for the "truth" is counterproductive and takes away the fun of the process of exploration.
Good Luck and keep us posted!


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #64: Roadcruising Study (HELP REQUEST!
PostPosted: January 17th, 2013, 2:07 am 
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Joined: February 6th, 2011, 9:09 pm
Posts: 466
Location: Guilin, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, China
I see that you are being offered excellent advice. And, while I may not be able to help, I wish you the best of luck in this endeavour.

Several months ago I had the great fortune to run into a master of the martial art that I came to China to study all those years ago (2005) and happens to have the same schedule as me and a great enthusiasm to teach (and inflict pain). I have been studying at least three hours six mornings a week since and, although it was completely different from what I am used to and the foundation training is very intense, I was able to cast aside my doubts and things are going well. Although I am a beginner (at this art) I get a lot of respect from the older students for my diligence and enthusiasm.

I wouldn't be concerned about not being a scientist. Many great explorers and scientists started out as hobbyists. If Neil thinks you've got it in you, you can do it. And... you are a lucky bastard. Don't complain. :P


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #64: Roadcruising Study (HELP REQUEST!
PostPosted: January 17th, 2013, 1:13 pm 

Joined: December 9th, 2010, 9:21 am
Posts: 77
Sounds like a great project, and lots of fun. If you've read the Reptile Biodiversity book, then you've read Gordon's chapter on population biology. I think it's perhaps the most important chapter in the book, because he really stresses detection probability. The problem with most of the older road survey literature is that there's an underlying assumption that detection rates are correlated with relative abundances or with population-level characters. This is usually a completely unvalidated assumption. For example, if while road cruising you find 10 individuals of species A and only 1 of species B, that in no way means that there are 10x as many of Sp A - in fact, there could be 10x as many of Sp B. It all depends on their detection probabilities. This realization has been slow to catch on in herpetology (and with herpers), but gaining traction and probably represents the single biggest opportunity for increasing our understanding of snake ecology. The unfortunate upshot is that many variables from road cruising, including relative or absolute abundances, sex ratios, reproductive conditions, size/age structuring, etc, may be completely unrepresentative of the actual characteristics of the underlying populations. There's a lot that CAN be learned from road cruising, but you need to start with a solid grasp of its biases.
Bob


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #64: Roadcruising Study (HELP REQUEST!
PostPosted: January 17th, 2013, 2:29 pm 
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Joined: June 10th, 2010, 9:20 am
Posts: 79
To quote a buddy of mine: "Never go herping just for fun." I think it's very cool that you will be compiling your field observations into data for analysis. I'm looking forward to reading about your results!

I think Jeff provided some quality advice. I also advise that you back up your data (e.g., photocopy/scan, Excel sheets saved on multiple computers or 'the cloud', etc.).

Check out if geographic information system (GIS) data are available for the area. These data can be incredibly useful for generating categorical or quantitative variables such as habitat types, land-use, elevation (riparian/upland), etc. Many community-level analyses can be informative when analyzing species presence absence and abundance -- species accumulation (rarefaction) curves (a great tool to determine how well you sampled your fauna of interest) or rank-abundance curves are coming to mind -- and can be used descriptively.

It seems you are heavily interested in snakes. Perhaps eventually you can tap into your adviser's vast knowledge about snake ecology and natural history to generate predictions and test hypotheses about the animals you sample.


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #64: Roadcruising Study (HELP REQUEST!
PostPosted: January 17th, 2013, 4:54 pm 
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Joined: June 8th, 2010, 2:19 am
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Location: Kuching, Sarawak (Borneo)
Hi all,

first off, thank you very much for the deluge of helpful tips and material all you guys either posted here or sent me by mail/PM. This is indeed a world-class forum, and I'm proud to be part of it.

I've spent some time fine-tuning my data sheet with all the new input, and it looks quite useful now. (I'm also making backups - in fact, four of them - every time I close the file. I work on the Internet and know the importance of regular backups :-))

natrix, at the moment it's pure data collection/survey, but we're trying to think of a problem that can be addressed. Maybe it'll come to me once I have more data. Or does anyone have an idea already?

Quote:
I wouldn't be concerned about not being a scientist.

Not concerned at all. Au contraire, when I look at the rat race many scientists call a life, I'm glad I ain't one....at least not one who gets paid for results.

Quote:
Many great explorers and scientists started out as hobbyists.

And stayed that way all their lives. Darwin, for one.

Quote:
you are a lucky bastard. Don't complain.

No complaining from me. I know very well how lucky I am. In five minutes, I'll do my regular morning post-prandial in the park, like many middle-aged folks all around the world. Only the park I'm going to is a small, but proper jungle full of all kinds of interesting critters I can observe during my walk....among them a troop of Long-tailed Macaques, a semi-tame Crested Fireback, ca. 40 species of snakes, and countless weird plants and bugs. (Not to mention the cute joggers I can ogle if the monkeys don't show). And I can do that all year round. So yes, I'm quite aware of my luck :-)

narrowfellow, you hit the nail on the thumb. Naja sumatrana and Python reticulatus are among the most wide-spread and common snakes in the area here, but so far I've roadcruised just two cobras and one retic. On the other hand, I've already seen six P. breitensteini. As mentioned above, we'll have a closer look at the date in a year (or even two - I'm in no rush) and then see what can be gleaned from them.

Quote:
Check out if geographic information system (GIS) data are available for the area.

There aren't. Even Google Earth is smudgy at best. But Neil has a friend at NASA we can hit up for some proper data :-)

Thanks very much again, everyone, and please keep the ideas and comments coming!


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #64: Roadcruising Study (HELP REQUEST!
PostPosted: January 17th, 2013, 8:07 pm 
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Joined: February 6th, 2011, 9:09 pm
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Location: Guilin, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, China
:lol:

I've got monkeys too where I train and I can snicker as foolish tourists are attacked after feeding them. I'd prefer to see them in the wild, though. :)


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #64: Roadcruising Study (HELP REQUEST!
PostPosted: January 17th, 2013, 10:23 pm 
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Joined: June 8th, 2010, 2:19 am
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Location: Kuching, Sarawak (Borneo)
They're pretty much in their wild state, not your usual tourist-robbing macaque punks. Even trying to feed them is difficult.


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #64: Roadcruising Study (HELP REQUEST!
PostPosted: January 19th, 2013, 4:01 am 
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Location: Guilin, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, China
It's more rewarding to find them that way. :)


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #64: Roadcruising Study (HELP REQUEST!
PostPosted: January 19th, 2013, 11:31 am 
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Joined: June 29th, 2012, 5:08 pm
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Location: Lexington, Kentucky
Except for an older nice study from Ghana, I can't come up with any literature suggestions (which is not strange since I don't have time to follow all the literature). I did a quick search on Google scholar but only came up with studies on the effects of road traffic on snake mortality.

The article I am referring to is

Spawls, Stephen (1992) Activity Patterns in Nocturnal West African Savanna Snakes. Journal of the Afrcian Herpetological Association, vol 40 no 2.

If you give me your email I can scan and send it to you.


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