More on tunnels for footprint tracking

I include here a picture of the tunnel with its wooden board. I have to move the sponge to the middle of the board. The tunnels have to be placed in the field and covered with stones, branches, etc. some weeks before they are employed, so animals get used to them and are not afraid to enter. This is also true because they need time to discover them. After that they usually start to mark them, so other individuals are attracted and find them more quickly.

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During the last Spring I got nice footprints of stoats. These ones are done with the ink of glycerin and carbon black. As I revised the tunnels and renew the ink every day, the ink stood relatively wet during the day. The sides of each square correspond to 0.5 by 0.5 cm. You also can see other rodent footprints in the picture, wood mice for example.

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I placed these tunnels near Hautepierre-Le-Chetelet, in Franche-Comté (France). It is a very good area because it has lots of hedges and grasslands with high densities of water voles. Sometimes I could see these stoats near my tunnels and once I was very lucky and could get these nice pictures.

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During that time many students, colleagues and technicians helped me, mainly from Laboratoire Chrono-Environnement, FREDON Franche-Comté and Fédération Départementale des Chasseurs du Doubs. I was also supported by a postdoc from Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha (Spain), with EU Funds. Many thanks for that 🙂

Tunnels for footprint tracking

Happy new year! During the last days I have been trying a method for recording footprints. This is because we want to estimate small mustelid predation over vole populations by small mustelid visits to baited tracking tunnels. It works like this: The plastic tunnels have a wood plate inside. The surface of the wood plate is covered with Kraft paper and a sponge. An “ink” is placed in the sponge and in previous experiences I tried an ink of glycerin and carbon black but dries quickly. I tried this time with a more sophisticated method based on a chemical reaction! This ink is a solution of ferric nitrate, polyethylene glycol and water. In the paper I sprayed another solution of tannic acid, ethanol and water. And as a result, when the little animal step the sponge and after the paper… it leaves a nice footprint! In this case there are some footprints of rodents.

Wood plate with footprints

I am still improving it, maybe by placing another sponge in the middle of the plate, but it has been an exciting experience. Back to chemistry after finishing my degree! thanks by the way to the team of Gregorio Crini for giving me a hand with the chemistry part ;-P

You may find a deeper description of the methodology in these two articles:

King, C.M., Edgar, R.L., 1977. Techniques for trapping and tracking stoats (Mustela erminea); a review, and a new system. New Zeal. J. Zool. 4, 193–212.

Graham, I.M., 2002. Estimating weasel Mustela nivalis abundance from tunnel tracking indices at fluctuating field vole Microtus agrestis density. Wildlife Biol. 8(4) , 279–287.

There is also a lot of nice information of the method available in internet, for instance from New Zealand, where small mustelids where introduced and may produce strong predation pressure over native fauna. In this case, these tunnels have been then used as a cheap way to monitor small mustelid populations and provide information for management.

Thanks also to my supervisors and also my colleague Paco Diaz-Ruiz for the advices.