We're excited to welcome the WildTrack FIT group to our WILDLABS community! Today, we'd like to introduce you to the Footprint Identification Technique (FIT) and share how you can incorporate this tracking method into your field research, engage with FIT as a citizen science, and integrate FIT with other technologies.
What is FIT?
Developed from indigenous tracking techniques, FIT is a simple, affordable method for tracking species and identifying individual animals with only their footprints. Consider how easily we can identify any human by their fingerprints; with FIT's algorithm, it's possible to apply a similar principle to the species we study. Without high-tech (and costly) gear like GPS collars or camera traps, it can be tricky to gather accurate data on wildlife populations, particularly those which are difficult to observe firsthand in the field. But field researchers will know that signs of wildlife are all around us, and the FIT system allows you to form a richer, more comprehensive picture of these populations and their ranges in a non-invasive way. Using customized species algorithms that analyze footprints, FIT can gather crucial data on sex and age, as well as differentiating between individual animals within a population.
The algorithm, built using captured footprint data from captive and wild animals, has an accuracy of approximately 95% for identifying individuals. When used alone, FIT is a wonderful way to map the presence of species and populations within nearby ecosystems. When used alongside other types of conservation technology in the field, such as drones, camera traps, eDNA forensics, or bioacoustics, FIT serves as a powerful aid for enhancing and analyzing data, and filling in gaps.
We've attached an infographic below which explains how zookeepers working with carnivore species have used FIT to benefit field researchers studying endangered big cats in the wild. Although this infographic is specific to animals in captivity, the principles for gathering data in the field are largely the same.
Unlike other highly specialized tracking techniques, FIT is accessible to anyone who regularly encounters wildlife footprints. The only equipment needed to participate with FIT is a digital camera, a computer, a method for obtaining a field location (such as a GPS unit or location app), a scale (a ruler), and either a voice-tag or pen and pencil. Its lack of specialized equipment and ease of use also makes FIT a great way to engage local communities and classrooms with wildlife.
Click through to see a video tutorial of the team behind WildTrack walking through the FIT process. Again, though this video features captive cheetahs, the principles for collecting footprints and utilizing FIT in field research are similar.
How Can You Get Involved?
As we've said, FIT is a great way to immerse yourself in the world of wildlife monitoring and contribute to vital data on species' ranges and populations. By using EpiCollect and iNaturalist, citizen scientists of all skill levels can gather data from the footprints you encounter, whether in a professional or amateur scientist setting! Your gathered data can be used in two ways: developing stronger algorithms from the footprints of known animals, and mapping overall species distribution by photographing any footprints encountered in the wild.
To engage with FIT here on WILDLABS, join this new FIT group and start posting right here on the forum! Zoe Jewell, Amy Fitzmaurice, and Karin. R. Schwartz from WildTrack lead this group and are ready to help you integrate FIT into your conservation tech projects!
Test Your Footprint Skills!
Below, we've compiled FIT photos from an otter, tapir, fisher, cougar, black rhino, Amur tiger, raccoon, and coyote. Can you tell them apart? Give it your best shot! Visit our Get To Know FIT blog post here for the answers!