Vol. 2, Issue 6, February 10, 2004
Boring Nature Threatens Habitat Monitoring Project
A Canadian habitat monitoring project at Simon Fraser University (SFU) has run into serious financial difficulties just months after its inauguration last summer.
"We're really disappointed in the direction the project has gone," said Marvin Stokes, professor of biological sciences and director of the SFU Habitat Monitoring Project. "We were a year ahead of our nearest competitors at the UCLA Center for Embedded Network Sensors project. Unfortunately, while we overcame the technological barriers, there was one factor simply beyond our control: Mother Nature."
The project involves one of the first instrument arrays designed to provide real-time, long-term data on wildlife in a natural setting. The array, developed with cutting-edge technology, is a hierarchical, wireless remote data logging system powered by a combination of solar panels and deep cycle batteries. It includes features such as an acoustical tracking system designed to allow constant monitoring of animals such as grizzly bears in the wild.
"Our selling point was that this was the first time such a system had been deployed in Canada, and that we were capable of science that was just as sexy as those blasted Americans, with their pompous cellphones and their Lexus SUVs," groused Stokes. "Our country truly has let us down."
The problem appears to be that nothing is happening in the 24 square mile area monitored by the SFU system.
"Nothing," emphasized Stokes. "The animal population of this forest is one of the least animated and energetic I have ever witnessed."
Apparently the unprecedented, long-term window into the wild has shown a distinct difference in animal behavior than that witnessed in National Geographic specials. The SFU network has revealed that predation, when it occurs, is quick and businesslike instead of long, drawn-out and dramatic; herbivores forage laconically instead of industriously; mating is efficient and to the point. Most of the fauna, in fact, seems to spend as much time sleeping as possible.
"Well, what this suggests is that animals know a camera when they see it," said UCLA project manager Anthony Parvin. "These findings indicate that when animals being filmed with conventional camera crews are engaging in exciting life-and-death activities, they are actually hamming it up."
Because the data obtained so far by SFU are so dull and dreary, the SFU Habitat Monitoring project stands to lose its corporate backing.
"We'll find something interesting, we will," said Stokes. "I promise you, any day now one of those bears is going to wake up on the wrong side of bed and we'll be in business."
The UCLA team is confident that its own habitat monitoring project will fare better when it becomes operational later this year.
"American animals are much worse behaved than Canadian ones," Parvin assured reporters. "Plus we're adding malt liquor dispensers to every sensor post. One way or another, we'll get those critters going."