MWTP Research Club

Louis Liebenberg, the founder of CyberTracker, makes a case that the art of tracking is the origin of scientific thinking. Science, at its most basic, is rigorous empiricism—the careful, first-hand study of nature—which builds on previous knowledge by making observations, asking questions, looking for patterns, and (importantly) sharing with others. When we track, we are practicing science by studying what we find, creating and testing hypotheses, and engaging in ongoing peer review.

Since our inception in 2013, the Minnesota Wildlife Tracking Project has had connections with wildlife researchers and research projects—though this has generally been secondary to our mission of sharing the art of tracking. Recently, some members began asking how we might contribute more, or what it might look like for us to develop and carry out our own research projects. To explore these questions, we are launching the MWTP Research Club.

Our plan is to have a monthly gathering modeled loosely on an academic research group. We will read and discuss research papers, explore ideas for projects, and plan Tracking Club meetings or other opportunities to carry out these ideas. Our first gathering will be on Tuesday, January 25, at 6:00pm. Because of the current COVID surge, we will meet online. To join us, RSVP by emailing Tieran, or Contact Us. We will provide you with a Zoom link and copies of this month’s articles.

For our first gathering, we’re going to talk about otters. A few years ago, the Minnesota Wildlife Tracking Project collaborated with staff from the National Park Service to gather track and sign data on otters in the Twin Cities Metro Area. As part of that collaboration, we launched the Minnesota Metro Otter Survey on iNaturalist. For the past couple years, we have continued this passive crowd-sourced data collection. We would like to revisit this project and explore what our next steps could be.

We will read and discuss three papers for this first gathering:

Evans, J. W., Evans, C. A., Packard, J. M., Calkins, G., & Elbroch, M. (2009). Determining Observer Reliability in Counts of River Otter Tracks. Journal of Wildlife Management, 73(3), 426–432.

Holdhusen A. 2011. Distribution of river otter (Lontra canadensis) within the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area: results from a two-year study of winter sign surveys. National Park Service

Larivière, S., & Walton, L. R. (1998). Lontra canadensis. Mammalian Species, (587), 1-8.