Research methodologies on terrestrial and marine programmes vary according to country, location, season and the work programme requirements of our in-country collaboration. To give you an idea of the types of field techniques you are likely to experience here is a brief outline.
As the name suggests, these surveys are very quick and easy to perform, using a minimum amount of equipment and man power. However, the results generated allow us an insight into what to expect in any given area. They provide vital information in planning and coordinating the latter steps of the research and monitoring program.
This survey provides data on the basic benthic coverage (Line Intercept Transect method), Underwater Visual Census (UVC) fish data, frequency of indicator invertebrates present, and a detailed account of the physical and environmental conditions of the site.
Algal and coral cover is quantified within the BSP survey technique. However, in order to assess algal cover in direct relation to coral cover, a quadrat survey methodology was devised.
Coral bleaching is considered to be one of the major threats to reef ecosystems, and is becoming increasingly common across the globe. The main trigger or stressor is elevated water temperatures, but additional factors can include extreme salinities, increased light exposure and nutrient imbalances in the water. The methodology used by Frontier was devised so as to determine which coral genera were most at risk or vulnerable to elevated temperatures and which corals appeared to recover well.
During the Costa Rican sea turtle nesting season, July to December, nightly patrols of beaches are conducted alongside a local NGO. The patrols not only help gathering valuable population data but also serve to discourage individuals trying to mark nests and collect eggs and adults.
These studies aim to collect data on the distribution and abundance of gastropod species in and around the areas where we are currently working. Data is used to assess the effectiveness of Marine Protected Areas.
These surveys are conducted through a variety of methods including Reef Fish Surveys and Line Intercept Transects.
This part of the coral damage survey aims to quantify the abundance and diversity of reef-associated fish species to determine the standing stock and to give an indication of the state of the reefs. It is conducted with the Line Intercept Transect to allow the influence of substrate on reef fish diversity and abundance to be investigated.
This survey quantitatively assesses the sessile benthic community of coral reefs by characterising the community using life-form categories. The categories allow accurate morphological descriptions of the reef and the technique is used to estimate the percent cover of damaged coral. It is combined with the Reef Fish Census to examine relationships between reef structure and fish diversity and abundance.
A conventional method of surveying small mammal diversity, Sherman traps are small metal boxes which are baited to attract small mammals that feed on fruit and seeds. Traps are positioned to sample a variety of micro-habitats and to capture both terrestrial and arboreal species.
This method of trapping employs plastic buckets sunk into the ground, positioned in the survey area so as to sample a variety of micro-habitats. This method is useful in surveying reptiles and amphibians as well as small mammals and insects. Pitfall traps are also useful in sampling nocturnal animals and those that cannot be attracted by bait.
Canopy traps are occasionally used to collect a representative sample of fruit and carrion feeding canopy dwelling forest butterfly species.
Canopy traps only attract fruit feeding butterflies and high flying species. Timed sweep netting collects a representative sample of the butterfly species in the forest under-storey as well as other habitats such as scrub/thickets and around ground herbs and grasses.
Hung across flights paths in the forest, varying combinations and configurations of mist nets are employed to sample bat and bird diversity.
Transects, as timed "directional walks", are conducted to record the presence and relative abundance of large mammals through all visual and aural encounters.
The presence of large mammals is also assessed through spoor and sign surveys conducted along established transects associated with the study sites.
Freshwater turtle populations are occasionally sampled in watercourses in forested study sites. Mesh traps with net extensions are used, allowing turtles to swim up to breathe. Turtles are identified, photographed and morphometrics are taken before being released, in order to build a comprehensive picture of populations associated with study sites.
In addition to mist netting, bird diversity is assessed through conducting line transects, timed species counts and point counts. Line transects are useful in open habitats and assess relative abundance of bird species and diversity; timed species counts are useful for recording canopy and mid-level bird species and are also useful in assessing abundance; and point counts are useful for monitoring changes to species diversity pr abundance.
Infra-red sensor camera traps are used on some projects to sample particularly elusive animals, such as nocturnal species or large mammals. It is currently used in Cambodia to assess the distribution and abundance of the currently threatened fishing cats.
Nocturnal acoustic monitoring techniques are sometimes used to assess the frog species assemblage by recording the species-specific calls made by males during the breeding season.
Throughout the study periods opportunistic observations are made and unknown sample specimens are collected; these records are important in ensuring a thorough research effort and comprehensive species inventories.
All data collected is analysed statistically to produce scientifically sound results. These results are used in the production of Frontier's Report Series and many peer-reviewed scientific articles (see Publications) and are often utilised in management policies of the surrounding area.
Standardised vegetation plots and transects are systematically positioned throughout forest or woodland survey areas to enable a non-biased representation of the woody species composition and to allow future comparative studies to be carried out.
Regeneration plots, recording recently regenerated vegetation associated with the study plots, are also used to assess the extent of disturbance in the area.
Standardised vegetation transects are carried out to assess the status of mangrove stands associated with Frontier's marine research programmes.
Current research focuses on: GIS mapping the extent of mangrove stands using GPS; determining species diversity; assessing community structure and estimating mangrove biomass.
Throughout the study periods opportunistic observations and collections of botanical life forms are made to ensure comprehensive species inventories are compiled.
Botanical data are analysed utilising a combination of vegetation classification and ordination techniques.
Disturbance transects are carried out to assess the level of human disturbance within a particular survey site. It is important to determine the extent of human use of native flora, such as firewood collection or cutting trees for building materials, so that management recommendations can be made to encourage sustainable utilisation.
Semi-structured and informal interviews are conducted with members of local communities in order to gain an understanding of resource-use pressures on the environment, historical anecdotal information and attitudes towards issues such as endangered species protection or protected area management.
Initiatives to involve the local community with our research and conservation efforts are ongoing at each Frontier field site. Activities include environmental education workshops organised with local schools, production of promotional materials based on the local environment and conservation, and training local management staff in research and monitoring methodologies.