Many of us who are affiliated with CAnMove work in the field with notebooks, binoculars and electronic equipment such as GPS. Typically, in a field study, GPS-positions (coordinates) are taken, and these coordinates are written down in a notebook alongside with ecological information, morphological information, behavioural information etc. This is the typical working scheme of those who work with (say) monitoring of breeding birds, population studies of nestbox-breeding birds or those performing mark-recapture studies on small mammals or insects. Can this type of data collection be made more efficient in the future?
Probably, according to a new methods-paper published in the open-source journal PLoS ONE. The authors of this study were interested in using so-called "smartphones" to more efficiently collect epidemiological data over a large geographical area, to understand the rate of spread of diseases. They used an open-source software that is available for mobile phones called EpiCollect and a spatial software web application that is also open source and which is located at http://www.spatialepidemiology.net/.
This new system enables scientists (and laymen who would like to volonteer as well, so-called "citizen scientists") to collect data directly in the field, alongside with geographic positions, and quickly download it to a database on the web, as a safe and immediate backup of the files. Data collected by multiple field workers can thus be submitted by phone, together with GPS data, to a common web database and can be displayed and analysed, along with previously collected data, using Google Maps (or Google Earth). You can also read more about this new methods-study in this article provided by BBC.
This system, and similar new high-throughput data-collection systems is something that could also be quite interesting also for us in CAnMove and for other field ecologists and field evolutonary biologists, outside the area of epidemiology (which was the original motivation for the study above). We have recently hired two new technical engineers, Johan Bäckman and Arne Andersson, who will hopefully soon start to look more in to these kind of systems, or even more efficient ones for field data collections. A few years ago, there were some handheld computers on the market ("Palm Pilots") that were used by some field ecologists, but their main disadvantage was that they could not be immediately backed up in the field. With new mobile phones that can be used as efficient data-collecting devices, we might soon enter a new revolutionary era in field work that will make us faster and more efficient in our studies.