The endangered Hazel dormouse

The Hazel dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius), UK.

This  is one of the UK’s most endangered mammals, due to the destruction of so much of it’s habitat of hedgerows and deciduous woodland.  We are working with Cheryl Mills of the University of Exeter at Tremough in Cornwall, UK, to adapt FIT for monitoring these tiny animals, initially at the specific level (to differentiate from sympatric species such as the wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus) and bank vole (Clethryonomus glareolus). If this is successful, we anticipate extending the usage to the identification of individual dormice.

Common dormouse, hibernating.

Common dormouse, hibernating.

Dormouse footprints, recorded on paper.

Dormouse footprints, recorded on paper.

Because dormouse footprints are so small (some of the metacarpal pad impressions are less  than 1mm in diameter), the method of collecting images had to be modified.  Unlike other applications of FIT where footprints are imaged from a natural substrate, we are collecting inked impressions on paper.  Cheryl has developed a technique where an inked pad is placed before a long tunnel into which semi-absorbant white paper is placed.  Animals run across the pad and along the tunnel, leaving impressions of all four feet on the paper.  Cheryl has collected a large series of images from both captive and wild animals of these three species, and we are currently in the process of developing an algorithm for differentiating at the species level.