Digital tools for environmental field researchers and citizen scientists.

Modern technology has developed to provide an array of instruments and software to assist field researchers and citizen scientists to build accurate databases for empirical analysis of the environment and species. As a husband and wife team, Amanda and I have surveyed South African wind farms in both the pre and post construction phase since 2009. Below are some of the more accessible means of digital data recording available at entry level cost.

Weather :

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Correlation of species behavior and weather contribute to prediction models.

Wind speed and direction, temperature, cloud cover and visibility are easily recorded using a variety of instruments and visual assessments and are crucial to correlate to both animal behavior and vegetation condition.
Cloud cover is generally recorded on a proportion of eight and visibility as either good, moderate or poor.
Wind conditions, temperature and barometric level can be measured using a hand held weather station. Kestrel, Silva and Oregon Scientific all have reasonably priced units available. Some sports watches may even offer temperature and barometric data. An inexpensive compass will assist recording the direction of the wind.
Weather conditions can either be recorded on a time schedule or at the start of each survey period.

Geo spatial records.
The need for precise location data can easily be recorded as a precise location, a movement or flight path or as an area.

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Cybertracker is of great assistance when recording a species territory and range. In this case the feeding station of a Black Harrier.

One of the best open-source packages for precise location recording is Cybertracker which can be used on either proprietary handheld units or any Android smartphone. Cybertracker facilitates precision location recording with a time stamp while recording predetermined data which can then be exported as a ESRI shape file for analysis in any GIS package. The advantage of Cybertracker is that target species records are recorded instantly without the need for triangulation and data capture at a later time.

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A minimum of six hours of daily observation of priority species flights recorded in QGIS builds up an accurate database of flight corridors correlated to prevailing wind and topography.

For geospatial records of animal movement or avian flight paths, open-source QGIS for Android is ideal on a tablet. Pathways can be recorded as line shape files traced over geo referenced maps. Recording a mosaic of vegetation can be recorded directly as a ESRI shape file polygon simply by walking a specific stand of vegetation while the built-in GPS plots the perimeter walked.

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Territorial spatial arrangement can be accurately recorded with Cybertracker.

The two primary advantages of Cybertracker over a conventional handheld GPS are firstly the efficiency of capturing comprehensive associated data with the location and secondly, the ability to record a location on a geo referenced map without having to be at the location, thereby reducing the need to disturb the focal animal or bird species.

Group notes.
A platform like Evernote is ideal for groups as a means of collaboration of field notes and operations.

With these simple tools, comprehensive information and data can be recorded as a means of compiling accurate baseline data for researchers, environmental advocacy groups and environmental fanatics.

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