Biologging technology is an incredibly useful tool for studying aspects of ecology and animal behaviour, but there are an overwhelming number of factors to consider when it comes to choosing hardware. Researchers must consider how project design will affect the overall tag including its attachment method, the technologies which will record and transmit the data, the battery life, and the weight of the tag.
The diagram below shows a beginner’s guide to all the considerations for choosing a biologger starting with project design and going into each aspect that will have to be considered. It provides an entry point to what researchers will have to consider when they start a biologging project and as you can see it is not an uncomplicated topic.
Figure 1. Guide to choosing a biologger including elements of project design and study species, and the interconnected factors of weight, battery life, technology type, environment and attachment type (Hebblewhite and Hayton, 2010)(Thomas et al, 2011)
Over the past three months, I have been interning with WILDLABS and researching into the movement ecology field with an emphasis on biologgers. I have found a lot of information about the range of options available when it comes to designing a biologger. I have collated most of this into the above Figure, however I have found very little by way of information about how researchers navigate this with regard to actually purchasing their biologgers. Knowing what sort of project is suitable for radio collaring is very different to knowing where to actually find the radio collars necessary.
As you can probably tell, the biologger market is highly diverse, and a large number of companies offer specialised and custom biologging solutions. Additionally, there are now companies that specialise in selling both biologging kits or trackers that researchers can use with their own batteries, transmitters or casings. This option is particularly attractive for many researchers due to the comparatively low price, but can pose a higher barrier to entry than conventional biologgers.
This diversity is likely due to the fact that there are a huge range of species that biologgers are used to study, across several fields of research. Many companies specialise within a niche of movement studies, only making tags for avian or for marine taxa, for example.
With biologgers required to be very specialised to individual projects, the high cost to deploying tags and the broad range of choices available, researchers can have a difficult job navigating through all of the potential options available to them. Especially as those needing to use biologgers can come from a diverse range of backgrounds with varying degrees of prior knowledge about the conservation technology space.
I recently conducted a survey with WILDLABS to investigate what types of biologging tech our community members were using. In total, 48 community members submitted 65 distinct pieces of hardware, 10 of which were bespoke products made by a company, and 5 of which were components for DIY biologgers. This shows the broad array of products available to researchers.
As part of my internship at WILDLABS I have been contributing to a project to develop an online resource to tackle this issue - The Inventory. This project is working to build a dynamic, collaborative, wiki-inspired database of conservation technology. The goal of which is to become a place where conservationists can discover what technology is available for their work, how it is being used by others around the world, and what our conservation tech community would recommend. My work focussed on expanding the biologging content for The Inventory, so that this tool could help researchers find the perfect biologging tech for their projects.
I wanted to know more about the way the biologging community approaches choosing hardware, and how The Inventory might fit into this process, so I spoke to a number of researchers in the conservation space about their projects to find out how they decided on their tech solutions and if there was any information to be gleaned about how these processes could be improved.
Over the next month I will be sharing five articles discussing different conservation projects which used biologgers, how those researchers chose their tech and their experiences with that piece of tech. We will be looking at projects across a range of taxa from elephants to koalas and from basking sharks to goats! With satellite tags to Pop Up Archival Tags to custom audiologgers and DIY GPS collars! The first article is available now!
How to Choose a Biologger series release schedule:
Tracking Elephants with Neus Estela Ribera (Available now!)
Tracking Endangered Seabirds with Yvan Satgé (Available now!)
Collaring Koalas with Matthew Stanton (coming soon - 7 December)
Mapping Goat Movement with Annkathrin Sharp (coming soon - 14 December)
Banner photo credit: Greg Marshall/National Geographic Society