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Research in urban ecology and evolution relies on the use of deployable scientific equipment. If left unattended in the field, scientific equipment may be prone to vandalism and theft, especially in the urban space. Here, we empirically applied a theory derived from the field of criminology, specifically the Routine Activity Theory (RAT) framework, to predict disappearance rates of scientific equipment in an ongoing urban ecology research project. First, we tested a routinely applied method of equipment protection – labelling – and investigated whether equipment disappearance varied with label information content and message tone. Second, we examined whether equipment attributes (price, mass, volume, colour, and type of installation) and environmental variables (human presence, tree cover, distance to paths and distance to roads) covaried with the disappearance of two types of field equipment, and whether patterns of disappearance changed over time spent in the urban space (novelty effect). The disappearance of 474 nestboxes and 141 frassboxes was followed over four years and two field seasons, respectively. By using the RAT framework, we predicted that nestboxes would be less likely to disappear than frassboxes. In contrast to an earlier reporting, we did not find any association between label type and disappearance rates. Instead, environmental variables covaried with equipment disappearance: for both types of scientific equipment, there was an interaction between human presence and tree cover. Thus, in highly-frequented places with dense tree cover, people were more likely to remove scientific equipment, possibly because they felt less visible. We also detected an interaction between distance to roads and paths for frassboxes but not for nestboxes, revealing that equipment properties may interact with the environmental setting. Importantly, frassbox disappearance decreased over time in both study seasons, indicating the important role of novelty for scientific equipment disappearance rates. We encourage other researchers, site-managers and stakeholders working in cities and other frequently visited areas to apply the RAT framework, as it is a potentially universal, easily applicable and inexpensive method to gain insight into patterns of equipment disappearance in the public space, thereby enhancing the capacity for informed project planning and as a result, safer, and more effective studies.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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