Tracking Natural Behaviors
Enhanced Video Resource

This video resource follows two government ecologists as they embark on a one year study to track the movement patterns of the eastern gray kangaroo.

Discussion Questions:

  • A number of kangaroos died during the research study due to predation or automobile collisions. How does this impact the data gathered? How can researchers anticipate and address the loss of subjects?
  • If GPS tracking collars were not available, what other methods could have been used to track kangaroo movement?
  • What did the research reveal? How would you use this information to influence government policy? What policies would you put in place to protect the people who live in Canberra? What policies would you put in place to protect the kangaroos who reside in Canberra?

Background Essay:

Kangaroos are iconic to the Australian landscape and are known for their unique locomotion. The eastern gray kangaroo is a formidable marsupial that can grow to be 7 feet tall (2.1 m) and can weigh up to 120 pounds (54 kg). Their hind legs and feet are strong and help to propel the kangaroo into the air. Their tails are particularly muscular and work to maintain balance and direction when they are hopping.

The kangaroo’s strong legs allow this animal to bound 25 feet (8 m) in a single leap and jump up to 10 feet high. They can reach speeds of up to 35 miles per hour (56 km) and can travel for long distances over hilly terrain at an average of 15 miles per hour.

There are tens of thousands of eastern gray kangaroos in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), inhabiting a widespread area from the grassy plains and river valleys to the hills and into the developing city. Each year there are approximately 2,000 motor vehicle collisions with kangaroos in Canberra alone. As a result, the government is investigating kangaroo behavior so they can develop programs to protect the area inhabitants, both human and marsupial.  In this video segment, government researchers Claire Wimpenny and Don Fletcher discuss their research study to track the movements and behavior of twenty-five eastern gray kangaroos in and around Canberra using GPS-enabled collars. This research will provide the government with evidence to make policy decisions regarding future kangaroo control programs, and potentially reduce the risk of motor vehicle collisions.

At the start of this research study, each selected kangaroo is darted with a tranquillizer and then fitted with a radio collar. Such collars were first used for research in 1994 and since their introduction, the size and weight have been reduced, longevity increased, and data storage and retrieval ability improved. Today’s standard collar consists of a GPS receiver and antenna, a VHF beacon system, data storage hardware, and a battery power supply. Each unit records the animal’s positions at every hour of every day over the course of an entire year.  After the period of one year, the collars are preprogrammed to automatically release from the kangaroo and fall off. Once the scientists collect the collars, the information is downloaded and compiled to create a detailed map of the kangaroo’s movements.

The use of GPS technology for wildlife tracking is still relatively new to the field of science. As the technology improves, the depth of the research will also improve. For example, advances in the collar structure have allowed for lighter units to be built for use on smaller animals such as the wolf. Additionally, as the awareness of such research studies spread, government agencies will begin to see the policy implications of such animal movement and behavior pattern data.

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National Science Education Standards

Grades 5-8:

Content Standard C: Life Science

Fundamental concepts and principles that underlie this standard include:

  • Regulation and Behavior
    • An organism’s behavior evolves through adaptation to its environment. How a species moves, obtains food, reproduces, and responds to danger are based in the species’ evolutionary history.

Content Standard D: Earth and Science

Fundamental concepts and principles that underlie this standard include:

  • Science and Technology
    • Science and technology are reciprocal. Science helps drive technology, as it addresses questions that demand more sophisticated instruments and provides principles for better instrumentation and technique. Technology is essential to science, because it provides instruments and techniques that enable observations of objects and phenomena that are otherwise unobservable due to factors such as quantity, distance, location, size, and speed. Technology also provides tools for investigations, inquiry, and analysis.
    • Technological designs have constraints. Some constraints are unavoidable, for example, properties of materials, or effects of weather and friction; other constraints limit choices in the design, for example, environmental protection, human safety, and aesthetics.

Content Standard G: History and Nature of Science

Fundamental concepts and principles that underlie this standard include:

  • Nature of Science
    • Scientists formulate and test their explanations of nature using observation, experiments, and theoretical and mathematical models. Although all scientific ideas are tentative and subject to change and improvement in principle, for most major ideas in science, there is much experimental and observational confirmation. Those ideas are not likely to change greatly in the future. Scientists do and have changed their ideas about nature when they encounter new experimental evidence that does not match their existing explanations.

Grades 9-12:

Content Standard C: Life Science

Fundamental concepts and principles that underlie this standard include:

  • The Behavior of Organisms
    • Organisms have behavioral responses to internal changes and to external stimuli. Responses to external stimuli can result from interactions with the organism’s own species and others, as well as environmental changes; these responses either can be innate or learned. The broad patterns of behavior exhibited by animals have evolved to ensure reproductive success. Animals often live in unpredictable environments, and so their behavior must be flexible enough to deal with uncertainty and change. Plants also respond to stimuli.

Content Standard E: Science and Technology

Fundamental concepts and principles that underlie this standard include:

  • Understandings About Science and Technology
    • Science often advances with the introduction of new technologies. Solving technological problems often results in new scientific knowledge. New technologies often extend the current levels of scientific understanding and introduce new areas of research.
    • Creativity, imagination, and a good knowledge base are all required in the work of science and engineering.
    • Science and technology are pursued for different purposes. Scientific inquiry is driven by the desire to understand the natural world, and technological design is driven by the need to meet human needs and solve human problems. Technology, by its nature, has a more direct effect on society than science because its purpose is to solve human problems, help humans adapt, and fulfill human aspirations. Technological solutions may create new problems. Science, by its nature, answers questions that may or may not directly influence humans. Sometimes scientific advances challenge people’s beliefs and practical explanations concerning various aspects of the world.

Content Standard G: History and Nature of Science

Fundamental concepts and principles that underlie this standard include:

  • Nature of Scientific Knowledge
    • Scientific explanations must meet certain criteria. First and foremost, they must be consistent with experimental and observational evidence about nature, and must make accurate predictions, when appropriate, about systems being studied. They should also be logical, respect the rules of evidence, be open to criticism, report methods and procedures, and make knowledge public. Explanations on how the natural world changes based on myths, personal beliefs, religious values, mystical inspiration, superstition, or authority may be personally useful and socially relevant, but they are not scientific.
    • Because all scientific ideas depend on experimental and observational confirmation, all scientific knowledge is, in principle, subject to change as new evidence becomes available. The core ideas of science such as the conservation of energy or the laws of motion have been subjected to a wide variety of confirmations and are therefore unlikely to change in the areas in which they have been tested. In areas where data or understanding are incomplete, such as the details of human evolution or questions surrounding global warming, new data may well lead to changes in current ideas or resolve current conflicts. In situations where information is still fragmentary, it is normal for scientific ideas to be incomplete, but this is also where the opportunity for making advances may be greatest.

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