The questions that we ask today are the same that naturalists have asked for centuries - how and why do organisms function in nature? Different, today, are the tools that we use to find answers to these questions. As technical advancements have steadily improved in recent years, it is now possible to study organisms in their natural environment using techniques that not too long ago were reserved for the laboratory or were too deeply rooted in technical disciplines. Working in a broad collaborative network with biologists, computer scientists, engineers, designers and artists, in our work, we rely on 3D motion capture with thermal imaging, high-speed video and laser scanning to explore some of the most fascinating aspects of organismal biology.
Using bats as a model, we present an overview of how some of these novel technologies have allowed us to investigate a variety of research disciplines from animal behavior and population ecology to biomechanics of flight and group behavior – all constituents of the emerging discipline of aeroecology. Additionally, scientific visualization has enabled us to understand and transform these complex, multi-modal datasets into vehicles of knowledge through the power of modern exploration and hypothesis testing. We present the results of our analyses using some of the newest tools for the modern aeroecologist and naturalist.