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Georgia Journal of Science

Article Title

Validating high-frequency accelerometer field recordings of foraging behaviors in pit vipers**

Abstract

Biologging technology has revolutionized field studies of wildlife physiology, ecology, and behavior. Tri-axial accelerometers (ACTs), specifically, are becoming increasingly common in studies of animal behavior wherein direct observation of the subject is constrained or impossible. ACTs are small (< 1 g) piezo-electric (spring-like) sensors that measure three-dimensional acceleration (upward, downward, and side-to-side) derived from subject motion. When leveraged with advanced machine learning techniques, these data can enable precise automated classification of a wide range of movement-mediated behaviors. Until recently, ACTs were largely reserved for larger-bodied organisms or those most amenable to the temporary external attachment of devices. Ongoing device miniaturization has now expanded the breadth of organisms amenable to these methods. This project aims to expand on a recently developed framework for ACT monitoring in wild-ranging snakes, a group that has been mostly overlooked in biologging applications. We are currently conducting extensive captive validation trials for robust model training and testing to enable classification of feeding behaviors, specifically strikes and ingestion of prey items, in Timber Rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus). Following captive validation, we will translate this method to the field with a population of C. horridus in the lower Piedmont of middle Georgia to evaluate the efficacy of externally attached ACTs for remote and continuous monitoring of feeding behaviors by wild-ranging pit vipers. We envision that validation of this technique opens the door to improved interpretation of the causes and consequences of variation in individual behavior and performance, and its ultimate effects on population trajectories.

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