Phones for Fieldwork II–Collating Data By Text Message

With the field season winding down, I finally have some time to write the blogposts I’ve been composing in my head for the last two months. To begin, here’s a quick follow-up to my previous post on the utility of phones in the field, describing a data-collection-by-text method that substantially increased my team’s efficiency.

I’ve been trying to think of the sort of fieldwork for which having phones can improve efficiency so much as to be almost indispensable, and I think the work I’ve been doing this summer comes close, particularly in the largest of our sites, the infamous Northside Park. In a nutshell, we spent all summer observing the locations of marked lizards. Lizards were marked with a three-bead tag, and each tag was associated with a unique lizard ID. The location IDs of the lizard’s perch comprise the ID plus an alphabet indicating how many locations the lizard has been seen at. For example, the lizard here with the tag “orange-dark green-orange” (ODgO; whether that colour in the middle is actually dark green is a matter of dispute among my field assistants and me) is P115 (lizard ID). He’s sitting on the third tree he’s been spotted at, making his location ID P115c.P115 tagged

With over 70 lizards marked per site, and three people recording their locations, things can get complicated very quickly. Add to this the requirement that multiple observations of the same lizard on a single day be separated by at least an hour, and things get even trickier. In a small field site, data collection is manageable–my assistants yell out their observations to me, and I can verify the ID, assign the location a name, and write the data down. But adopting the same approach in a bigger fieldsite would mean hoarse voices and too much time wasted in jogging across the park to write down data. Hence our nifty group texts:photo 2

My assistants begin by simply snapping a photo of the most up-to-date tag-to-ID conversion list, then wander off to look for lizards and text me data when they see something. Similarly, when I see a lizard, I text everyone the ID; since the texts are time-stamped, we each know how long to wait before re-spotting a previously observed lizard. Not only does this texting system save time and energy, allowing us to simultaneously work in multiple parts of a large fieldsite, but the texts also act as a back up of the data. Doable without a phone? Absolutely, but nowhere near as easily.



3 thoughts on “Phones for Fieldwork II–Collating Data By Text Message

  1. One of my favorite uses for my phone has been as a field identification system. I already had a draft of a key I had been working on, so I used that in combination with labeled pictures for field ID of over 100 species of ferns at a site in Costa Rica. It took some work to set up, but was quite useful. Interactive dichotomous keys are also a great application of smart phones in the field that wouldn’t be possible with anything else (short of a computer).

    1. Absolutely! We used LeafSnap a little bit towards the end of the summer, and I was impressed by how much easier a smartphone could make species identifications–even if it didn’t get things exactly right, it put a novice like me on the right track. One of my field assistants also found a nifty app (can’t recall the name) that allowed him to both ID and record his own herp sightings, acting like both field guide and field notebook at once.

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