Wild small mammals are studied in many research fields, including microbiome ecology, disease ecology, demography and conservation. Two key methods for monitoring these animals are the capture-mark-recapture approach (CMR, i.e. repeat live-trapping) and radio-tracking to monitor movements. Live traps capture many animals not required for research objectives, including non-target species and recaptures. Spending time in traps can significantly reduce animal welfare, causing weight loss and a risk of mortality. Handling before manual release is also stressful. In this proposal, we will develop, optimise and apply two novel devices based on PIT tag technology that will reduce the number of animals used in this type of research, refine their experience, and enable higher quality scientific data to be collected from the animals involved. The first is an intelligent trap, which will allow researchers to selectively trap only those individuals required according to both body mass and ID. This device will also collect body mass data and allow for faecal sample collection without human handling and without animals being in traps overnight, via an auto-release feature. The second is a spatial logger, which records the presence of a PIT tagged animal when it passes a detector. These loggers have low power consumption and can be left in the field for c. 1-2 months, collecting high resolution data on individual whereabouts without human interference. Both devices have remote programming and data retrieval capability. We will apply these devices in our long-term study of wood mice, in order to quantify the 3Rs impact they can achieve and demonstrate their scientific value by using them to ask a novel scientific question about gut microbiome ecology, that has been out of reach with standard techniques. We will support four other research groups to trial these devices, both in the UK and mainland Europe, to establish their use in other species and systems.
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