My latest research project – Meet your wild neighbours – was featured on Swedish national television (TV4). You can see the item here (in Swedish).
Meet your wild neighbours is a citizen science project, which means that everyone can participate. We invite inhabitants of Umeå municipality to borrow a camera trap from SLU (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences) to put it up in on their property. In that way, we hope to get a better view of which animals live in our municipality and how people think about these animals.
You can find more information about the project and a way to participate here (in Swedish).
I have been working on Mustelids for several years now, mainly focussing on the study of traffic victims collected by volunteers throughout the Netherlands. Since I started my PhD research, another aspect of Mustelids has caught my attention, and that is the ectoparasite burden of Mustelids, with of course ticks as a main interest.
Although my sample size is still quite small, I can say that most Mustelids I have studied so far are parasitized by ticks. I have hardly found an individual without ticks! Even a picture I took several years ago of a female pine marten looking out of her denning tree includes a tick! Most individuals however are parasitized by only a few ticks, of two species: Ixodes ricinus and Ixodes hexagonus.
I found that badgers, pine martens and stone martens feed several ticks on average, with a nice distribution of both tick species. The few polecats I studied, however, were infested with many ticks (one individual carried more than 600 ticks!), mainly Ixodes hexagonus. It seems that polecats are important hosts for this tick species, although very little is known about it (I have yet to find a published study on polecat tick burdens). Seems like there is enough to do in the coming year on this front! I will try to keep you updated.
Last month I spend most of my days working in the field, finding new sites for my PhD research. One of the new sites is located in the Amsterdam Water Supply Dunes, one of the areas in the Netherlands with the highest deer densities. The main deer species in this area is fallow deer. You can’t go for a walk without seeing at least a couple of them grazing next to one of the many roads. There are some plans to start culling this population as it has increased tremendously over the last few years, but culling has not started yet. Therefore, this area is very interesting for my research, as I want to know what this high deer density does to rodents and ticks.
Also this picture depicts my latest ideas for photography projects for this year. I am going to work on two projects, one which has something to do with mammals, and the other will focus on the many shapes and forms made by trees. For me, both of these elements come together in this picture.
This morning I visited the Dutch nature reserve Deelerwoud to search for a field site for my research. While walking in the forest, I encountered a herd of red deer crossing the road. Deer are not hunted in the Deelerwoud, resulting in a relatively high density, which makes seeing deer during a walk a lot easier compared to some other areas in the surroundings.
Last month was totally dedicated to field work (as will be the next months). It was a very busy period with lots of blanket dragging to catch ticks for my research, and a lot of planning for the field work this summer. Fortunately, I had one day in which I had to select some new plots for a field experiment that we started, and as I wanted to have some pictures of the plots, I took my camera with me. This is a picture of one of the control plots for the experiment.
Spring time fully hit the Netherlands, everything is green again, but the weather has been changing a lot, from full rain to sunshine and back again. On this day, it was rather wet, with a lot of showers, which meant white skies on all of my pictures. In this one, I overexposed a few stops, to make the sky really white, and to show the many colours of green that were visible in the forest on that particular day.
The nice thing about going to the same place again and again to sample for my research, is that I also get to see the changes that are happening in the forests during spring. The picture above is a nice example. I have camera traps (cameras with a heat and motion detector) in 10 different areas in the Netherlands to monitor the mammal fauna in forests. These camera traps take a picture every 12 hours, for me to see if the cameras were working all the time. Four weeks ago (29 April) I placed a camera trap in a forest in the Dunes near IJmuiden, and today (27 May) I collected it. When I arrived in the forest this afternoon, I did not recognize it! The forest had gone through a whole transformation. To visualize this, I took a time lapse picture from the first day, and one from the last day, and blended them together.
Doing research with camera traps is a lot of fun, because you capture things that you would not have expected beforehand. Last month my fieldwork started with the placement of cameras in different forested areas in the Netherlands to look at the interaction between species diversity and tick densities and the infection of ticks with Borrelia burgdorferi s.l., the causative agent of Lyme disease. I do not use any bait or lure to draw the animals towards my camera, as I want to use the number of photos I take from each species as a measurement of their density. Therefore, the animals that walk in front of my camera display ‘regular’ behaviour and most of them just walk by.
However, some of the animals show special behaviour, like the roe buck in this picture. It is marking its territory with the scent glands on its head at 7:34 pm, and walks on. About 45 minutes later, a red fox walks past, it stops, and it sniffs the tree, which was just marked by the roe buck. Apparently, these scent cues are not only to let other members of your species know that you are there and that this is your territory, but it also works to let the neighbours know you are there. Even if the neighbours are from a different species.
Today, the ‘Dagblad van het Noorden’ published a small interview with me about my research. Hopefully this will result in more media exposure for my research and the whole project. The interview can be found via the link below. It is in Dutch.
Today I helped with the counting of hibernating bats in the surroundings of Wageningen. Several places in the area, such as some old brick-yards and an old ice house, are monitored every year for hibernating bats by a group of volunteers, and this year (for the third time), I joined them.
Counting hibernating bats involves looking into every crack and crevice that you can find, while twisting your body into every imaginable position in order to see every corner. All the while looking upward in a dark, mouldy tunnel/chamber/hole. However, when you spot a small ball of fur with some ears and wings, your adrenaline starts rushing, as you have found another bat. People who have never seen a bat up close most probably can’t imagine it, but bats are actually very soft and fluffy! Unfortunately, spotting the bat is not everything, it has to be identified as well. Luckily we had some experienced people with us, and after a while everybody could identify most common species. During the day we saw quite some bats, of four species in total.
In the old ice house, the bats are always hanging more in the open, and I was able to photograph a whiskered bat, deep in hibernation.