Previous Editorial Board Member’s Choice

Philip Batemanby Philip Bateman

Secret lives of maned wolves (Chrysocyon brachyurus Illiger 1815): as revealed by GPS tracking collars.
L.F. Bandeira de Melo, M.A. Lima Sábata, E.M. Vaz Magni, R.J. Young & C.M. Coelho, 2007, J. Zoology 271: 27–36.

What is the difference between science and technology? Science is, of course, an objective method of discovery, and technology is what scientists use when applying the method to empirical discovery. Advances in science and technology tend to go hand in hand. Any new technological advance is soon used for empirical discovery, and new theories soon appear to manifest the required technology to test them. One technological advance that we now probably take much for granted in field-based zoology is that of collaring or otherwise tagging animals in order to track them, or discover their home ranges or territories. Whilst this used to mean radio-telemetry requiring constant triangulation to pinpoint the animal GPS technology now means that collars can provide us with even more information and on species that previously we knew very little about without disturbing the animals apart from initially putting the collar on them. Bandeiro de Melo and colleagues used GPS collars to track three maned wolves, a shy and nocturnal species about which very little was previously known, in a Brazilian savanna habitat. What I find appealing about this sort of study is that it gives us insights into, often quite basic, natural history and zoology of species that, while sometimes familiar to us for centuries we tantalisingly have known barely anything about. Discovering that maned wolf pairs have a strong bond, often sleeping very close to each other during the day, but hunt entirely separately, all of which has been learned from position data recorded every two hours by their collars, strikes me as being the 21st Century equivalent of the observations of the naturalists of the previous two, or more centuries, who had to rely on the technology of their eras but were filled with delight and excitement at what they found. People like David Douglas and John Kirk Townsend (who wrote of a naturalist‟s ecstatic delight at new discoveries) in North America and W.H. Hudson and Gilbert White (who identified new species of warbler with a small telescope and a keen ear and observation skills) in Britain. For me, it emphasises that we are the heirs of these pioneers of field studies of animal behaviour and that we have discoveries ahead of us, thanks to advances in technology, which may be as apparently simple as theirs but are just as exciting and satisfying.

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