Warner College alumna Lindsey Roberts was recently the lead author on a paper called “Trade-offs in the initial and long-term handling efficiency of PIT-tag and photographic identification methods,” published in a special issue of Ecological Indicators.
The special issue highlighted the long-term monitoring efforts for amphibians in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The study investigated the use of passive integrated transponder (PIT)-tagging and photographic identification of Boreal toads, two primary techniques used in long-term monitoring of amphibians.
Roberts, who conducted the study as a senior in her undergraduate degree, said there has been an ongoing ethical debate about the use of either technique and the stress they may cause to the animals.
The team investigated the two methods in terms of initial and subsequent capture handling times to develop a Shiny Application, which calculates cumulative handling time using species- and study-specific parameters.
Amphibians are an important indicator of the health of an ecosystem, so studying them efficiently and with little disturbance is key, said Roberts, who graduated with a degree in fisheries and aquatic sciences from the Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology department in May 2021.
“Amphibians are very sensitive to environmental changes. I think that’s what we mean when calling them the ‘canary in the coal mine,”’ Roberts said. “If amphibian populations are declining, there’s often a larger problem. Things like climate change, human disturbance, and even, in our case, long-term monitoring can impact amphibians.”
The team’s ultimate findings showed that initial handling time was longer for PIT-tagged individuals relative to photographed individuals, but long-term (i.e., cumulative) handling was shorter for PIT-tagged individuals relative to photographed individuals because the time needed to handle and identify previously PIT-tagged individuals was much lower compared to the time need to obtain a good, clear photograph each time an individual was captured.
The study has implications for future researchers conducting long-term monitoring, particularly in Yellowstone National Park, which is focused on long-term monitoring of native and other species in the park.
“It’s important that the animals we’re trying to help conserve our being processed efficiently and with as less stress as possible. Our study gave insight into how that can be achieved,” Roberts said.
Opportunity through lab experience
In the summer after her freshman year at CSU, Roberts got a role in FWCB professor Larissa Bailey’s lab as a field technician working on a long-term amphibian monitoring program in collaboration with researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Park Service.
Roberts worked in the lab for two field seasons, originally doing data collection, but during the second season she worked with collaborating scientists to design and collect the handling information that was focal to her published study.
“It was clear that Lindsey was a hard worker who wanted to contribute beyond simply collecting data for others,” Bailey said. “In my lab, we try to provide opportunity to match our students’ interests and ambition.” Roberts’ career trajectory and the published study are indicators of her work ethic, Bailey said.
“There’s something to be said about developing a project and finishing it, meaning seeing in through to publication” Bailey said. “That’s a great accomplishment for any researcher regardless of where they’re at in their career. For Lindsey to be published as an undergrad says a lot about her initiative, her patience and her commitment.”
Today, Roberts has a permanent position at the Larval Fish Laboratory at CSU where she works on fish identification in the field and on preserved specimens in the lab, with much of her work focused on the Yampa and Green rivers in Colorado.
Her work ranges from drift netting endangered Colorado Pikeminnow Ptychocheilus lucius in Dinosaur National Monument to electrofishing on jet boats, rafts, and canoes to remove various invasive fishes from riverine ecosystems. Currently, Roberts is pursuing hybridized sucker identification, machine learning for larval verification and developing a phone application for all of the species of fishes found in Colorado.
“Everything I did in college led to my role at the Larval Lab,” Roberts said. “Having a role with Larissa in her lab and starting my networking/field experience early was really key for me.”
Co-authors for the published study included Abigail Feuka, Erin Muths, Bennett Hardy and Larissa Bailey.
To learn more about Larissa Bailey Lab, visit the lab website. Explore the Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology major here.