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Contact: Beth King
202 786 2094 8216
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

Tropical forest animal tracking featured at nsf.gov

Ocelots and agoutis!

At the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, researchers track elusive ocelots and agoutis through dense forest using innovative radio telemetry technology. STRI'TMs 24/7 telemetry system is designed to map up to 200 animals on real time maps, telling us when and where animals eat, sleep and die. A new interactive web site from the U.S. National Science Foundation features movies, researcher interviews and animal facts from several animal tracking technology projects: http://nsf.gov/news/special_reports/animals/intro.jsp

The Automated Radio Telemetry System (ARTS) on Barro Colorado Island in the Panama Canal, came to be when Princeton'TMs Martin Wikelski and Roland Kays, Curator of Mammals at the New York State Museum in Albany, got together with George Swenson, emeritus professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and expert in automated bird tracking systems.

Wikelski was interested in animal energy budgets: how much time and energy do animals expend on searching for food, reproduction and social interactions, evading predators? Kays did his Ph.D. field work in Panama, studying behavior of the kinkajou, a nocturnal mammal. He had lots of experience using a hand-held antenna to track one radio-collared animal at a time. They agreed that to gain insight into the behavior of animals in the tropics, an easier tracking method would be essential.

Swenson, who designed some of the first radio telemetry systems to track satellites during the Sputnik era, came up with a multiple antenna system and software to triangulate transmitter signals and send the resulting information about the location of an animal to a mapping program on a computer. Now researchers at Princeton and elsewhere can follow animals on their desktops.

This multiple user system, sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the Levinson Family Foundation, has been extensively field tested for several years. Sloths, coati mundis, howler monkeys, white faced monkeys, bats, ant birds and toucans have participated as research subjects in addition to the ocelots and agoutis featured on the NSF Web site. Wikelski and Kays encourage other researchers to join the project.

Future plans include tracking animals from aircraft and in other tropical forests that are part of STRI'TMs Center for Tropical Forest Science in order to understand global patterns of migration and other large-scale phenomena.


The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), a unit of the Smithsonian Institution, with headquarters in Panama City, Panama, was established to further our understanding of tropical nature and its importance to human welfare, to train students to conduct research in the tropics and to promote conservation by increasing public awareness of the beauty and importance of tropical ecosystems. www.stri.org

ARTS system updates:
National Geographic: Kaysâ€TM kinkajou project
student journal entry
Project featured in JASON Project, Rainforests at the Crossroads curriculum