About the “Squirrels in Space” Module:
In this module, students use radio telemetry to track and record location data for radio collared animals on or near an institution’s campus. Data can then be used to provide students with experience mapping locations, calculating home ranges and movement distances, and testing hypotheses considering how space use and movement are affected by individual characteristics of animals (e.g., sex, body mass, behavioral traits), habitat characteristics (e.g., dominant vegetation, food availability, proximity to human structures), or presence of other animals (e.g., predators, humans, domestic species, conspecifics). Additionally, students submit their data to our national dataset that aggregates observations from multiple institutions. They can then access the national dataset and explore these questions across a broader variety of habitats and species than would be possible at a single institution.
As with all Squirrel-Net modules, “Squirrels in Space” aims to provide students with an authentic research experience in which study results are unknown to both students and instructors. While instructors prepare projects by ensuring access to radio collared animals and/or the national dataset, students can generate their own questions and develop their own tests for answers. This module also aims to provide students with hands-on experience using radio telemetry equipment. Radio telemetry is the most common method for tracking small animals (Taylor et al. 2017) and is often employed by wildlife biologists in entry-level positions. Thus, experience using radio telemetry equipment can provide biology/environmental science students entering the workforce with a skill desired by employers.
In this module, we focus on sciurids, which are found across a variety of habitats and on nearly all college campuses across North America; however, the lesson plan can be easily adapted to other small animals. Potential extensions to the module include incorporation of lesson preparation (e.g., live trapping and radio collaring of animals) into class or additional tracking of radio collared sciurids outside of class. For instructors who do not have access to radio telemetry equipment, the Squirrel-Net Consortium plans to establish a loan system that will allow instructors to borrow equipment and test implementation of the module presented here. In addition, students that are not able to collect their own data can still participate in spatial data analysis and hypothesis testing by accessing the freely available national dataset.