How does weather affect fine-scale behavioural ecology of giant Amazonian tarantulas?

Canada
BiologyEcology
DOI: 10.18258/53642
$2,415
Raised of $1,940 Goal
124%
Funded on 2/29/24
Successfully Funded
  • $2,415
    pledged
  • 124%
    funded
  • Funded
    on 2/29/24

About This Project

Environmental parameters influence many aspects of an organism's life. However, animals that spend large portions of their lives underground remain understudied. We still don't know much about what the Amazon's iconic tarantulas get up to in the wild when no one is watching. I will monitor one of the largest tarantulas on the planet, the steely blue birdeater (Pamphobeteus antinous), and look at how temperature, humidity, and air pressure affect their movement.

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What is the context of this research?

If we look at burrow-dwelling animals as a whole, we see that burrow-dwelling animals will move further in or further out of their burrows for reasons such as the weather, the presence of predators or of of prey, and antagonistic interactions with members of the same species. However, there are many burrow-dwelling species for which we still lack basic data about their movement. Environmental temperature affects many aspects of the biology of ectothermic ("cold-blooded") animals like tarantulas. For example, they will move in response to temperature differences across space. Animals' bodies are mostly water, so humidity can also affect an animal's biology. Lastly, some animals can detect barometric (air) pressure changes, which herald things like storms.

What is the significance of this project?

The Amazon Rainforest is one of the ecosystems most under threat from human-related phenomena like climate change. Tarantulas, like most of the Amazon's denizens, are highly understudied, and we don't know how changes to climate and weather patterns will impact their ecology and, ultimately, their survival in the wild. For instance, would an increase in the region's air temperatures mean that tarantulas spend more time deeper in their burrows? If so, this could mean fewer successful feeding attempts at passing prey, with consequences for overall survival and reproduction of tarantulas in the region.

Furthermore, despite being reviled by some, tarantulas are beloved by countless exotic pet owners. More knowledge about their ecology will contribute to better welfare.

What are the goals of the project?

I'll travel to Kawsay Biological Station in Peru for approximately one month. I'll bring with me an infrared thermometer data logger (which will continuously record the temperature inside the burrow), a device called a Kestrel Drop D3 (which continuously records air temperature, humidity, and air pressure), a trail camera, and miscellaneous other equipment. In Peru, I'll find P. antinous in their burrows and deploy the devices for multiple days at each burrow. The end result will be very fine-scale data on the movement ecology of P. antinous, and how it relates to the weather conditions of an individual tarantula's local "microclimate". I also intend to use a fake tarantula placed in abandoned burrow(s) to validate my infrared measurements.

Budget

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I already have much of the equipment needed for this project (e.g., the trail camera). The following are aspects of the project that I need to raise money for.

Getting Me to and From the Field Station

This includes flights and the cost of ho(s)tels to sleep in while waiting for a connecting flight (or while waiting for the boat in Puerto Maldonado).

Support Fees

These are fees that I need to pay to Kawsay Biological Station for using their facilities, and fees that I need to pay to experiment.com for using this platform.

Kestrel Drop D3

This is the cost of a Kestrel Drop D3 to monitor air temperature, humidity, and barometric (air) pressure.

Stretch Goal: Travel Medical Expenses

This is the cost of things like travel insurance, malaria prophylaxis, etc., adjusted for the fees that I will need to pay to experiment.com.

Endorsed by

I am happy to endorse this project. The project proposes to uncover key environmental stimuli that influence behaviour in a cryptic animal. We very often know so little about how burrowing animals behave in the wild because they are so difficult to observe without disturbing them. Nick has all the experience to carry this out, with knowledge on behaviour, thermal biology, and instrumentation and is an avid and motivated biologist.
This project explores the impact of temperature on "cold-blooded" creatures. An area of research that is too often overlooked despite their prevalence in the ecosystem. Nick as a researcher not only bring enthusiasm for every project, he works on but also brings a vast array of knowledge from various biological fields including invertebrate biology and a tenacity to see a project to completion no matter the trials and turbulations of the project with scientific rigor and accuracy.
This is a really interesting project that will teach us about the natural history of a really amazing animal that we currently understand very poorly. Nick is a talented researcher with years of experience studying animal behaviour and thermal ecology - a skillset that makes him a perfect person to tackle this research question.

Project Timeline

I will travel to Peru in April, 2024. This is when the wet season transitions to the dry season, which is ideal for studying the effects of climate. Kawsay Biological Station will host me as an intern. I already have much of the equipment that I need for this expedition. Before I leave for Peru, among other things, I still need to order the Kestrel Drop D3, calibrate the infrared thermometer data logger, finish building two support stands, and finish building a fake tarantula.

Jan 30, 2024

Project Launched

Mar 08, 2024

Order Kestrel Drop D3

Mar 14, 2024

Finish Calibration of Infrared Thermometer Data Logger

Mar 15, 2024

Finish Construction of Portable Stand to Support Trail Camera and Kestrel Drop D3

Mar 20, 2024

Finish Construction of Portable Stand to Support Infrared Thermometer Data Logger

Meet the Team

Nick Sakich
Nick Sakich
MSc

Team Bio

I'm a zoologist with training in ecology and comparative animal physiology. I'm indebted to the staff of Kawsay Biological Station, who, should this project receive funding, will host me as an intern.

Nick Sakich

I'm fascinated by animals and nature. That is why I decided to study zoology at university. I received my BSc in Zoology from the University of Guelph in 2017. I then went on to pursue an MSc in Biological Sciences at Brock University, which I completed in 2020. These last three years have certainly thrown my career for a bit of a loop, but I'm excited to say that I intend to start my PhD later in 2024! In the meantime, I will continue, where I can, to contribute to our scientific knowledge of the natural world.

Additional Information

FAQs:

Why won't you catch the tarantulas and put transmitters on them?

Capture and handling by humans is usually stressful for wild animals, and this both compromises the animal's welfare and can change the animal's behaviour, affecting study results. Eventually, the animal will "forget" the stress of capture and its behaviour will return to normal, but for short-term studies this effect of capture on behaviour can be an issue.

What if you can't find any tarantulas?

Well, for starters, we know they're there: just recently, a new species of fly was described from specimens that were living on steely blue birdeaters around Kawsay Biological Station! Furthermore, female tarantulas live for years longer than the males do, and adult females of the burrowing species spend the vast majority of their adult lives in or at the entrance to their burrows. Therefore, I can rely on existing knowledge of where burrows have been spotted to reliably track down burrow-dwelling females.

Won't the equipment block the burrow entrance?

Nope! It will all be sitting off of the ground.

Won't the presence of the equipment near the burrow disturb the tarantulas?

Tarantulas don't have very good eyesight. In fact, their eyesight can be described as being very poor, so I don't anticipate this to be the case, no. On that note, even if the equipment "spooks" potential prey, the equipment won't be present at a burrow for long enough to have a meaningful impact on rate of prey capture by the tarantulas.

What if the tarantula leaves its burrow?

Any "walkabout" events will be captured by the trail camera that is monitoring the focal burrow. The trail camera will be set to capture a time lapse sequence. I won't be able to gather any data on body position once the tarantula has stepped out of the camera's field of view. However, I can still count things like number of forays out of the burrow, time spent out of the burrow, etc. Ultimately, mature females of burrow-dwelling tarantula species are basically so-called homebodies, so I don't anticipate "walkabouts" to be a super common occurrence.

You like spiders? Are you crazy?

Yes.

Cover Photo Credit: "Pamphobeteus antinous | Bolivian steely-blue legged bird spider", by John ("snakecollector"), licensed under CC BY 2.0. Image displayed here is cropped relative to the original.

In-Video Tarantula Photo Credit: "Pamphobeteus antinous | Pamphobeteus antinous" by John ("snakecollector"), licensed under CC BY 2.0.


Project Backers

  • 27Backers
  • 124%Funded
  • $2,415Total Donations
  • $89.44Average Donation
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