Habitual ecologist MSc

This is a very abridged version of my project process and findings.

We filmed high-speed footage of dormice locomoting normally, climbing and jumping across a gap from the side. We also filmed dormice locomoting normally in a classic top-down view to compare to existing analysis of other rodents.

I used two different tracking programs to analyse my video footage, one automatic and one manual. This part of my project consisted of hours and hours of monotonous clicking to either set parameters or track individual whisker positions.

Tracking the head midpoint, nose, top whisker base, top whisker shaft, bottom whisker base and bottom whisker shaft.

Tracking the head midpoint, nose, top whisker base, top whisker shaft, bottom whisker base and bottom whisker shaft.

I also watched and re-watched my footage of dormice jumping to evaluate whether the ability to touch the other side with their whiskers before jumping was a prerequisite to them taking the plunge.

The dormouse hesitates, to whisk into the gap

The dormouse hesitates, to whisk into the gap

Then, as it always does, came the stats! I used R for this project since it is what I am now most comfortable with, due to my recent taught unit on statistics and research design. As many of the variables turned out not to be normally distributed, I mainly used the Wilcoxon test.

My results indicate that in the dark, unlike laboratory rats, dormice won’t refuse to jump if they can’t palpate the opposite side with their whiskers. This means they will jump a gap larger than their forward reach + whisker reach, which ultimately lead to them jumping larger gaps (both proportionally and absolutely) than the rats used in a previous similar experiment. I also found that dormice display a wider range of whisking frequency than both rats and mice, with a mean frequency of 22.

The analysis of whisking characteristics is less straight forward, but did reveal evidence of the look-ahead strategy previously found in rats. Characteristics for most variables were similar between walking and climbing, and quite different in jumping.

A collaborative paper including these results and their significance to the future conservation of dormice, and all whiskered species, is currently in the works.

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