Taking the bait – Jess on her dissertation research project

A key feature of our undergraduate bioscience degrees is the opportunity to carry out their own research project, a great employability experience for students working closely with staff. Here, Jess DuMoulin talks about her research project…

  For my dissertation project I decided to investigate whether small mammals in the UK had preferences in bait and how this information could help to trap them in the future. With the destruction of their habitats, many species are becoming increasingly rare. Making the capture and study of these species more efficient would help to fill in these gaps as well as investigate whether management techniques put in place to help conserve these species are working.

 My investigation was carried out at Bevercotes Pit, Nottinghamshire, with the permission and support of the Forestry Commission. The study had two parts to it, one looking at small mammals by catching them and the other looking at hedgehogs using footprint tunnels.

For small mammals, five baits were tested: fresh fruit, seed and nuts, raisins, oats and honey and peanut butter. These were put inside Longworth and Trip traps which caught the small mammals alive ready for release after identification. Field voles, bank voles, wood mice and shrews were found, as expected, but catching toads and a weasel came as a bit of a surprise! Both vole species and shrews were caught more often when fresh fruit was used in the traps whilst mice were more partial to seed and nuts.

For the hedgehog aspect, the aim was to find a bait that would attract hedgehogs but not other carnivores such as cats who often disrupt these studies. Three different baits – cat food, hot dog sausages and hard-boiled egg – were put in the centre of the tunnels in between two strips of black poster paints. The entrances of the tunnels had two pieces of A4 paper clipped to them. This way any animals that went in to eat the bait would step into the paint and leave their footprints on the paper as they left the tunnel. Hot dog sausages were preferred but hard-boiled egg was also popular and importantly was a bait that wasn’t touched by either of the other two carnivores recorded, cats and weasels.

I enjoyed the dissertation aspect of this degree the most as it was challenging and had a degree of freedom to it in terms of choice of topic and the direction of the research. It has helped me to make the decision of taking ecology to a masters level, hopefully my next step from here.

Jess DuMoulin, BSc Animal Biology final year student

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