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Physiological Research

Physiological Research

We often take for granted the information that we have on our ecosystems and the life they support but have you ever thought about the years of research and development of technologies that have led to this wealth of information? It's really important to study extreme environments so we know our limits and how we adapt to change. It can also help us to find out more about the earliest life forms on our planets. Maybe one day, using physiological research we will learn how to sustain life on another planet. Research in extreme conditions is a challenging form of multidisciplinary research with many risks involved however discoveries made can be profound.

Physiological Research: Definition

Physiological research is essential for the conservation and managing the planet and the living things that inhabit it. We, as humans are causing irreversible damage to the environment and one way to mitigate this is by fully understanding the physiology of what surrounds us.

Physiology: The branch of biology that focuses on living things at both an ionic and molecular level as well as whole bodies and their influence on the external environment.

When we have better knowledge of ecological physiology we can better predict how species respond to changes in the environment and better inform policies.

Physiological Research Methods

There are many physiological research methods that have been developed over the years but below are some of the most common.

Satellite / Radio Tracking

Over the past 25 years, the study of migratory animals in particular has been revolutionised by the development and miniaturisation of electronic tracking technologies. The newest tracking devices not only provide information regarding the location of species but also on:

  • behaviour

  • energy expenditure

  • breeding sites

  • preferred habitats

There are two main types of technology used to track wildlife - radio-Telemetry and GPS (Global Positioning System) and VHF Radio-telemetry (VHF = very high frequency) with the latter being the oldest form of technology. It includes the subject being fitted with a “transmitter” in the form of a wing tag, collar, ear tag or glued to their shells. The transmitters then give off high-frequency radio pulses which a receiver will pick up and give the direction of the animal. GPS uses satellites to give Geo-spatial positioning and allows two-way communication between a GPS system and satellite that tracks movements which can then be downloaded to a computer and analysed on a map.

Figure 1. GPS tracking. source: StudySmarter Originals

Radio-TelemetryGPS (Global Positioning System)
CheaperMore expensive
Field biologists have to track animals downA biologist does not need to be in the field.
Limited rangelarger range
Range affected by terrain
Can be set to collect points over a 24-hour period.

GPS technology is currently used to track an elephant herd in central Chhattisgarh. It allows an early warning alert system (EWAS) to warn locals when elephants start to move close to their farmlands. The Forest Department conveys information on the elephants' whereabouts to local communities using radio channels and information distribution systems. This means people can protect themselves, crops and properties.

eDNA

eDNA stands for Environmental DNA and is DNA released into the water by plants and animals. Think about when you sneeze - you release a whole host of genetic material into the environment. Animals release material from their skin, faeces, mucous, hair, eggs and sperm, or when they die. We can collect this material through water samples which are then analysed for DNA. This has enabled many technical advancements.

eDNA is analysed by:

  1. Sample collection eg. from the soil, sediment or surface swabs.
  2. DNA extraction and purification (to remove chemicals that may inhibit the PCR reaction)
  3. Quantitative PCR (qPCR) detection (the PCR amplifies the DNA sequence and if a significant fluorescent signal is detected, the sample can then be considered positive for the species of interest).

The “q” in qPCR refers to the fact that this technique is “quantitative” and can therefore be used to research the prevalence of a species in a particular environment without the need to count or trap animals. This way, scientists can determine if a population is growing or declining.

Acoustic Monitoring

Sound has been used for centuries to study wildlife. From identification of birds through birdsong to utilising state-of-the-art sound recorders. Animals transmit information about themselves to the environment using sound and this information can be used by researchers to survey ecological populations and animal behaviour. Acoustic monitoring uses acoustic sensors to do this and over time the hardware has become progressively smaller, more sensitive, and cheaper. Additionally, new technologies mean that rather than trawling through hours and hours of sound recordings, technology can extract useful information. It offers a non-invasive way of monitoring endangered species, understanding habitat use, and identifying sounds of illegal activities such as gunshots and chainsaw noise. Common species that acoustic monitoring is used for include dolphins, whales, and bats.

Other Techniques

SnotBots - These are highly specialised and modified drones that fly through a whale's blow and collect exhaled snot which is then analysed.

Figure 2. SnotBot. Source: StudySmarter original

Image recognition - Image recognition is used to identify and compare individuals of a species.

StripeSpotter software - StripeSpotter software is issued to compare stripe patterns on zebras to a database and to record new individuals.

Research Proposal Plant Physiology

Plant physiology is a branch of botany referring to the physiological processes as well as structures of plants. It involves analyses of processes such as photosynthesis, respiration, transpiration, transportation, development, and growth.

There are many potential research proposal questions that may be investigated by ecologists. These questions more often than not focus on the patterns, causes, and consequences of plant abundance and distribution. Often they will look at the reasons behind different patterns. Physiological research technologies help us understand how plant physiology changes with the environment. When we make a proposal we must include the following:

  1. Background information in the form of a literature review.

  2. Explanation of why the research is important.

  3. The goals of the research and what it wants to achieve.

  4. The hypotheses that will be investigated.

  5. Background about the experimental plots.

  6. Data regarding current plant abundances and distributions.

  7. Details of the proposed experimental designs.

  8. What results you expect.

  9. References.

Current Research in Animal Physiology

An example of a recent research in animal physiology is the sloth bear denning project by wildlife SOS. It aims to use advanced scientific techniques to closely map the movement and reproductive physiology of denning bears. The study found that sloth bears can give birth to up to three cubs while a camera video trap showed the use of chemical communication techniques by the male bears to mark den sites. It also found that due to human activity, there have been changes in sloth bear behaviour.

Figure 3. Sloth Bear. StudySmarter originals

In 2014, the Concordat on Openness on animal research was developed in order to create a transparent approach to animal research. When possible, physiologists use in vitro (not in the living body and within an artificial environment) experimental approaches wherever possible as well as using the 3R's in research. These are:

  • Replacement – Using non-animal methods to get the same result.
  • Reduction – reducing the number of animals used.
  • Refinement – Minimising adverse effects on animal welfare and maximising benefits of the research.

Physiological Research Impact Factor

The environmental impact of research needs to be taken into account with regard to study design and execution. Doing research in a more sustainable way helps us to get more information from the same resource. Advancing technology aids this. Below are some examples of best practices.

Capture/trapping – Traps must be monitored and checked frequently to prevent conditions caused by weather such as flooding that may put animals at risk.

Handling – handling should be kept to a minimum and only done by those who are trained.

Marking methods – the least painful methods and those which don't make the animal susceptible to predation should be used.

Tracking devices – these should not be too heavy or impede an animal's lifestyle eg. for those who need to squeeze through small gaps.

Methods for taking measurements - These should minimise stress.

Examination habitats – Disturbance must be minimised.

Disturbing interactions between species – knock-on effects of disturbances need to be considered.

Below are some alternatives to traditional methods.

Required data: traditional method

Alternative method

Genetics: tissue sampling

Swabbing, Faeces, eDNA

Diet: Sampling of stomach contents

Faeces

Physiology: blood sampling

Saliva, Urine, Faeces

ID: invasive marking, attachment of instruments

Natural markings, Scars, Footprints, Less invasive marking

Presence/ absence: Trapping

Drones, Cameras, eDNA

Physiological Research - Key takeaways

  • Physiology is the branch of biology that focuses in living things at both an ionic and molecular level as well as whole bodies and their influence on the external environment.
  • When we have better knowledge of ecological physiology we can better predict how species respond to changes in the environment and better inform policies.
  • Plant physiology is a branch of botany referring to the physiological processes as well as structures of plants. It involves analyses of processes such as photosynthesis, respiration, transpiration, transportation, development and growth.
  • The main research methods that have seen recent advancements are eDNA, acoustic monitoring and Satellite/ radio trackers.
  • The environmental impact of research needs to be taken into account with regard to study design and execution. Doing research in a more sustainable way helps us to get more information from the same resource. Best practices inform this.

References

  1. (1) Conservation of life [Internet]. The Physiological Society. 2022 [cited 16 May 2022]. Available from: https://www.physoc.org/careers/research/conservation-of-life/
  2. 2. Tracking and technologies [Internet]. Wwt.org.uk. 2022 [cited 16 May 2022]. Available from: https://www.wwt.org.uk/our-work/wetland-conservation-unit/what-we-do/tracking-and-technologies/
  3. Tracking Wildlife for Conservation Research: GPS vs. Telemetry Technologies [Internet]. Wildlife SOS. 2022 [cited 16 May 2022]. Available from: https://wildlifesos.org/conservation-awarness/tracking-wildlife-for-conservation-research-gps-vs-telemetry-technologies/
  4. A Guide to Environmental DNA (eDNA) by Biomeme [Internet]. Biomeme. 2022 [cited 16 May 2022]. Available from: https://biomeme.com/environmental-dna/
  5. Acoustic Monitoring [Internet]. WWF. 2022 [cited 16 May 2022]. Available from: https://www.wwf.org.uk/project/conservationtechnology/acoustic-monitoring
  6. Griffith A. Research Proposal for Plant Ecology (Description) [Internet]. Esa.org. 2022 [cited 16 May 2022]. Available from: https://www.esa.org/tiee/vol/v2/experiments/proposal/description.html#intro
  7. Animal research [Internet]. The Physiological Society. 2022 [cited 16 May 2022]. Available from: https://www.physoc.org/policy/in-vivo-policy/animal-research/
  8. Wildlife research | NC3Rs [Internet]. Nc3rs.org.uk. 2022 [cited 16 May 2022]. Available from: https://www.nc3rs.org.uk/3rs-resources/wildlife-research

Frequently Asked Questions about Physiological Research

eDNA, acoustic monitoring and Satalite/ radio trackers.

The branch of biology that focuses in living things at both an ionic and molecular level as well as whole bodies and their influence on the external environment


There's a wide range of topics that include organs, anatomy, cells, biological compounds and how they interact.  

Research into living things and how they influence the environment. 

Plant and animal.

Final Physiological Research Quiz

Question

What is physiology?

Show answer

Answer

The branch of biology that focuses in living things at both an ionic and molecular el as well as whole bodies and their influence on the external environment.

Show question

Question

What is plant physiology?

Show answer

Answer

A branch of botany referring to the physiological processes as well as structures of plants. It involves analyses of processes such as photosynthesis, respiration, transpiration, transportation, development and growth. 

Show question

Question

Why is physiological research used?


Show answer

Answer

When we have better knowledge of ecological physiology we can better predict how species respond to changes in the environment and better inform policies. 

Show question

Question

What is satellite tracking?


Show answer

Answer

GPS uses satellites to give Geo-spatial positioning and allows two-way communication between a GPS system and satellite that tracks movements which can then be downloaded to a computer and analysed on a map. 

Show question

Question

What is radio tracking?


Show answer

Answer

The subject is fitted with a “transmitter” in the form of a wing tag, collar, ear tag or glued to their shells. The transmitters then give off high-frequency radio pulses which a receiver will pick up and give the direction of the animal.  

Show question

Question

 What is acoustic monitoring?


Show answer

Answer

Acoustic monitoring uses acoustic sensors to survey animal populations and behaviours. 

Show question

Question

What is eDNA?


Show answer

Answer

DNA released into the water by plants and animals.

Show question

Question

How is eDNA analysed?


Show answer

Answer

  1. Sample collection eg. from the soil, sediment or surface swabs.
  2. DNA extraction and purification (to remove chemicals that may inhibit the PCR reaction)
  3. Quantitative PCR (qPCR) detection (the PCR amplifies the DNA sequence and if a significant fluorescent signal is detected, the sample can then be considered positive for the species of interest).

Show question

Question

What are the 3R's in research?


Show answer

Answer

Replacement, reduction, refinement. 

Show question

Question

What species is acoustic monitoring used most commonly for?


Show answer

Answer

Dolphins, Bats, Wales

Show question

Question

What are some alternatives to tissue sampling?


Show answer

Answer

Swabbing, Faeces, eDNA

Show question

Question

What are SnotBots?


Show answer

Answer

These are highly specialised and modified drones that fly through a whale's blow and collect exhaled snot which is then analysed.

Show question

Question

How is image recognition used?


Show answer

Answer

To identify and compare individuals of a species.

Show question

Question

How is StripeSpotter software used?


Show answer

Answer

StripeSpotter software is issued to compare stripe patterns on zebras to a database and to record new individuals.

Show question

Question

What does EWAS stand for?


Show answer

Answer

Early warning alert system

Show question

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