Just ask nicely

I don’t think this will work…

A cute article came out a few weeks ago in a one of the big methodological journals in my field. (Methods in Ecology and Evolution, published through the British Ecological Society.)

The article pointed out that researchers often have to leave equipment out in the field to collect data (sound familiar?), and that this equipment sometimes gets damaged or stolen. So they did a little experiment where they labeled the equipment with a note. The note was in one of three “tones”: personal, neutral, or threatening.

The equipment and labels used by Clarin et al. 2013.

The equipment and labels used by Clarin et al. 2013.

 The personal note read: ‘Part of my thesis – Please do not touch – Please call me if you have any questions and would like to know more:’ and a photograph of a juvenile squirrel. 

The neutral note read: ‘Part of an  experiment – Please do not touch’ and a warning sign. 

And the threatening note: ‘Part of an experiment – Every theft will be reported to the police! GPS monitored!’

Lo and behold, cameras with the personal note and a picture of a cute baby squirrel had the fewest instances of vandalism and theft! (Also note in the chart below that the equipment with the “threatening” note had the most encounters!)

Figure 3 from Clarin et al, showing the # of incidents experienced by cameras with different note types.

Figure 3 from Clarin et al, showing the # of incidents experienced by cameras with different note types.

I thought this experiment was fun and the results heartening. Unfortunately, though, I’m not so sure nice notes will work so well on the Serengeti wildlife…

The last picture *this* camera ever took…

Reference: Clarin, B.-M., Bitzilekis, E., Siemers, B.M. & Goerlitz, H.R. (2013) Personal messages reduce vandalism and theft of unattended scientific equipment. Methods in Ecology and Evolution, doi: 10.1111/2041-210X.12132.

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About ali swanson

I'm an ecologist studying how large carnivores coexist. I spend way too much of my time trying to stop hyenas and elephants from munching my camera traps!

2 responses to “Just ask nicely”

  1. Tor Bertin says :

    Curious what would happen if they had either tagless equipment or equipment tagged with unrelated information.

  2. Lifesart says :

    Obviously that elephant does not appreciate the paparazzi taking pictures of her family! Nice framing, though.

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