Field Notebooks, Lab Notebooks and Eco:maps

Revised: 23 December 2015 (Eco:Map software).

Notebooks
Bound notebooks are kept for the following uses: Levels Notebooks for recording elevation data, Environmental or Geological Field Notebooks for recording field observations, and Wetlands Field Notebooks for assessing whether a habitat meets the definition of a wetland. Eco:Map software (a biologist's E-notebook) that operates on phones and tablets may be used for site visits, flora and fauna field trips and regualr water monitoring. Laboratory Notebooks are used for recording details of work undertaken in the laboratory.

Use of physical notebooks

All physical notebooks are bound, variously lined notebooks with pre-numbered pages and places for date and investigator's and supervisor's signatures on each page. Pads of tear-out graph paper or spiral bound notebooks without pre-numbered pages are not acceptable. The exception is Wetlands Field Notebooks where each spiral bound page is a stand alone assessment.

Preparing the notebook
Please use a ball point pen for all entries in Laboratory notebooks, so that the marks will not smear nor will they be erasable. Pencil is acceptable for Field Notebooks. Use the Table of Contents to record the starting page for each project.

What to enter
Above all, it is critical that you enter all procedures and data directly into your notebook in a timely manner, that is, while you are conducting the actual work. Your entries must be sufficiently detailed so that you or someone else could conduct any procedure or use the data in the field with only the notebook as a guide. The most logical organization of notebook entries is chronological. If a proper chronological record is kept and co-signed by a coworker or supervisor, it is a legally valid record. Such a record is necessary if you or Delta are to keep the rights to any discoveries, or if you need to defend your findings in a court.

You do not have to confine your notebook entries to results only. The notebook is a good location to store ideas, questions, library research notes, and notes that are part of any preparation. Specifically for a new laboratory study, write down a very brief introduction to the study, and list the objectives. If you have a hypothesis, write it down. The object is to make it completely clear what you intend to do. For a particular study (rather than a simple record of analysis) you may include the title of the study; introduction and objectives; detailed procedures and data (recorded in the lab itself) and a summary.

Making entries
Someone else may need to consult your notebook sometime, so please make your entries clear and legible. When you make your first entries of the day, start by entering the date. Writing out the month name is wise. The use of numerals only may cause confusion. When you start each new page of a notebook enter the date next to the page number. Each page should be signed and dated as it is finished. Regularly provide your notebook to another staff member for them to review, and co-sign.

Write a title for each and every new set of entries. Distinct sets of entries should be separated by using informative headings and by leaving a single space or two between individual sets of entries. Specific information can be more readily located that way.

Record everything you do in the lab, even if you are following a published procedure. In this case, a reference to the published method will suffice. How much you write down is up to you, but any relevant information should be there. If you change a protocol in any way or decide between alternative methods, then the correct information must be recorded in the notebook.

Mistakes
If you make a mistake in a bound notebook, put a simple line through the mistake and write the new information next to it. Never erase or obliterate an entry in a Laboratory Notebook. Even in a Field Notebook, it is preferable to put a line through a mistake and write the correct data next to it. Erasures in a Field Notebook should ideally be limited to correcting sketches and drawings, or correcting the layout of a table prior to data entry. When you finish a page, put a corner-to corner line through any blank parts that could still be used for data entry. Every bit of every page must be legible and filled, either with information or with a mark that voids the section. Once you have signed and dated the end of each page, do not make any further changes to it.

The summary
When you have finished a day's work, you may want to summarize what you have accomplished. You don't have to draw conclusions, just indicate what sort of data or observations you collected, samples you saved (and where and how you saved them), or any other relevant information. It can be a wise idea to write a brief summary at the end of a day even for a continuing study. The summary helps maintain continuity, and reveals where the work left off and how it might resume.

Organization of a notebook

a) More than one project at a time: What if you are conducting two long projects at once, each with long waiting periods? Date two consecutive pages, keeping both records separately.

b) Continuation pages: What if you need more than one page for a project? With continuing research, that will always be the case. Proper use of continuation notes makes it possible to follow your path through a long series of pages without having to leaf through every page of your notebook. When you know that you will be coming back to specific task in a project after going on to do something else, simply write Continued, page ___, then record the title of the new task, and the date, and continue to record information. When you resume work on the old task enter the date, write Continued from page ___, and continue. This way, everything you do in the laboratory is recorded chronologically, yet someone interested in following your progress could start from the beginning and follow every procedure on just that one study, from start to finish.

c) Reorganising notes: If your data records are scattered throughout the notebook, you may like to summarize them. This is acceptable. You may re-enter tables or figures any time you wish to organize your work a bit better. To prevent confusion over duplication of data you may put a line through a table or figure you intend to re-draw, initial and date the change, and note the page on which the re-organized data can be found. Just don't obscure any of the original entry.

d) Repeated procedures: Once you carry out a procedure, you can refer to that part of your notebook rather than recording all the method details each time you repeat the procedure. You still need to note changes you make to the method in future work. For example, the first time you prepare a substance you should write down the exact formulation. The next time, just refer to the name of the procedure and the appropriate page(s) of your notebook.

e) Loose materials: Sometimes you may enter raw data into a computer and have printouts of the data. Or you may generate a graph using a software program, or have some records in the form of photomicrographs, digital photos of count plates or graphical absorbance curves from instrumentation. Ideally, attach such materials to pages in the bound notebook itself. Too many glued-in items make the notebook bulky and this may stress the binding. If there is a lot of loose data pages, they may be kept in a secure separate folder or notebook, with location noted in the lab notebook. Spreadsheets or digital graphic files for specific folders should remain in the project folder for the project, on the main network computer, where they will be backed up regularly.

f) Table of contents: Record all entries in the table of contents as you go along. You can organize it anyway you like but one approach includes multiple levels in a table of contents, to indicate where a new study starts and to include subheadings for specific parts of a study, methods, sets of data, etc. The idea is to enable someone (such a coworker, or yourself a year from now) to find anything quickly. List each set of entries with dates and page numbers. If you are seriously organised, you might record every experiment in chronological order, then use the remaining blank space to make a second table of contents that cross references the contents experiment by experiment. Alternatively, using the last several pages of the lab notebook to construct an alphabetised topic indix may be a useful approach.

Notebook Checklist
As you record your activities in the laboratory or out in the field, ask yourself the following;

Eco:Map Software

Operating the software on field tablets or phones, using already defined surveys and field trip templates is self-explanatory. The software records your location and time, allows you to note field observations and record field readings, correctly spells species recorded in the field for you and allows you to take a picture of each site or specimen. While there is a Help function to assist with setting up new templates, surveys, field trips and databases, the following notes provide a rapid reference specifically for our most common uses. The software web site also provides advice.

Repeat monitoring survey where a project contains many sites and you want a spreadsheet report on all sites for this one event.

Onkaparinga, Port Alma and Bajool are all examples of SURVEYS that include multiple sites which are revisited. To revisit those sites for regular monitoring visits, PRESS and HOLD on the Survey name you wish to copy, then select REPEAT SURVEY and a new empty Survey form will be made.

To make a new Survey for a new monitoring program, saltfield survey or similar: From the Surveys page press + and select RESOURCES. You need to record details about the overall Survey and the individual Sites. For the overall survey, if you want to record just the basics (who was sampling, general location or region, time, date) use  either the Eco:Map basic or the Mangrove Cove survey template. If you need to record the day’s tide and weather data, as well as who was sampling and the other basics, use the Onkaparinga survey template (it has no data specific to the Onkaparinga).

The Sites template allows the generation of each site’s details. The Sites template for most water testing surveys will be the General Water Testing Sites Template.

If for some reason a new survey for the Onkaparinga is required, or a new regular estuary survey is considered, rather than simply using Repeat Survey a new set of sites can be generated using the Onkaparinga sites template. These contain specific data for the Onkaparinga, such as safety, sampling and access notes, so may require editing.

Repeat visits to a single site where the survey data from multiple events is part of a single spreadsheet

Mangrove Cove is an example of a single site that is visited repeatedly, and each event’s data are appended to a spreadsheet so that all data from multiple visits is maintained in one file. The templates you need for setting up such a monitoring program are Survey template: EcoMap or Mangrove Cove, Site template: General Water Testing.

To use, open up your Survey, and select + from the top RH side of the screen to call up a new sampling form. Do this on each event. When you forward the data, all events will be included on the one spreadsheet.

Flora and other databases :

Databases of plants and animals are available within Eco:Map for use in flora and fauna field assessments. You can build your own databases with other data as well. To import a database into the program it needs to be a .csv file renamed as an .imp file and saved into the “Documents” area for the Eco:Map app in Itunes. On connecting your device, the file will transfer to the device and in Eco:Map you will be able to “Import” it in the Databases section of the Resources tab.

Eco:Map allows you to import user defined databases that you provide as CSV files. It is best to use a spreadsheet program (e.g. Excel). Requirements:

    1. Import files must have the extension .imp
    2. The delimiter sign is the comma
    3. The import file must have attribute titles (e.g. 'English Names')
    4. The data should be UTF-8 encoded

Eco:Map can import any number of attributes, but it distinguishes between search and additional attributes. Search attributes contain information that are to appear in the search view. If your files contain more than one column you are asked to specify which of your columns corresponds to which search attribute. Scientific Name is the only mandatory attribute. You can have any number of additional attributes, but they do not appear in the search view, rather in their own section.

Walkover flora field trip :

Walkover surveys use the FIELD TRIP templates. Use the Eco:Map Field Trip template. The individual plants or animals discovered are called FINDS. For Fauna assessments use the EcoMaps Finds templates. For Flora use the Finds template called Voucher. You will need to make sure the SA Census of Vascular Plants database is checked, if you are doing an SA flora survey. If you are doing other surveys, you may need to download an appropriate database.

Detailed quadrats survey with vouchers recorded in a field trip

The more complex “quadrats with vouchers” flora studies require not only a record of the first find of each plant over the entire field trip (we take a voucher specimen for the herbarium) but they also require a survey of all the quadrats across the field trip area.

Each quadrat has all species found in in noted, along with dominant species, weediness, geomorphology, a photo of the quadrat etc. In order to record the quadrat details, set up a SURVEY using the basic Eco:Maps Survey template and for the Site Template use the Quadrats template.

Set up a FIELD TRIP for recording all the Voucher specimens. Use the Eco:Map Field Trip template. The individual plants discovered are called FINDS. Use the Finds template called Voucher. There is a field for recording which quadrat the plants was collected in, allowing the two spreadsheets to be related to each other.

Transferring templates and data sets between devices

The filled-in field trips and surveys save a .zip file onto the device. This is also emailed back to base. Using the .zip file can be dragged into the “Documents” area for the EcoMaps app, in Itunes. Templates can be transferred the ame way.

For flora surveys etc, it is worthwhile saving the zip files of these to the Biodiversity directory on the computer, for ease file management in the future.

 

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