Animal-borne sensors as a biologically informed lens on a changing climate
2023-09-18, Ellis Soto, Diego, Wikelski, Martin, Jetz, Walter
As climate change transforms the biosphere, more comprehensive and biologically relevant measurements of changing conditions are needed. Traditional climate measurements are often constrained by geographically static, coarse, sparse and biased sampling, and only indirect links to ecological responses. Here we discuss how animal-borne sensors can deliver spatially fine-grain, biologically fine-tuned, relevant sampling of climatic conditions in support of ecological and climatic forecasting. Millions of fine-scale meteorological observations from over a thousand species have already been collected by animal-borne sensors. We highlight the opportunities that these growing data have for the intersection of biodiversity and climate science, particularly in terrestrial environments. Tagged animals worldwide could close critical data gaps, provide insights about changing ecosystems and broadly function as active environmental sentinels.
Effect of harness design for tag attachment on the flight performance of five soaring species
2023-07-06, Longarini, Arianna, Duriez, Olivier, Shepard, Emily, Safi, Kamran, Wikelski, Martin, Scacco, Martina
Background: Bio-logging devices play a fundamental and indispensable role in movement ecology studies, particularly in the wild. However, researchers are aware of the influence that attaching devices can have on animals, particularly on their behaviour, energy expenditure and survival. The way a device is attached to an animal’s body has also potential consequences for the collected data, and quantifying the type and magnitude of such potential effects is fundamental to enable researchers to combine and compare data from different studies, as much as it is to improve animal welfare. For over two decades, large terrestrial birds have been in the focus of long-term movement ecology research, employing bio-logging devices attached with different types of harnesses. However, comparative studies investigating the effects of different harness types used on these species are scarce. Methods: In this study, we tested for potential differences in data collected by two commonly used harness types, backpack and leg-loop, on the flight performance of 10 individuals from five soaring raptor species, equipped with high resolution bio-logging devices, in the same area and time. We explored the effect of harness type on vertical speed, airspeed, glide ratio, height above sea level, distance travelled, proportion of soaring and flapping behaviour, and VeDBA (a proxy for energy expenditure) between and within individuals, all used as fine-scale measures of flight performance. Results: Birds equipped with leg-loops climbed up to 0.36 ms−1 faster, reached 25.9% greater altitudes while soaring and spent less time in active flight compared to birds equipped with backpacks, suggesting that backpack harnesses, compared to leg-loops, might cause additional drag affecting the birds’ flight performance. A lower VeDBA, a lower rate of sinking while gliding and slightly higher glide ratio and airspeeds were also indicative of less drag using leg-loops, even though the effect on these parameters was comparable to inter-individual differences. Conclusions: Our results add to the existing literature highlighting the design-related advantages of leg-loops, and support the use of leg-loops as a better alternative to backpack harnesses for large soaring birds, when possible. Our study also highlights how apparently small changes in device attachment can lead to notable improvements in tagging practice, with implications for animal welfare, data interpretation and comparability.
Geographical Connectivity, Migration Routes, and Wintering Grounds of the Common Crane in the Northern Moscow Region
2023-05-16, Sviridova, Tatiana V., Grinchenko, Olga S., Wikelski, Martin, Ilyashenko, E. I.
The results of a 3-year tracking of a common crane equipped with a GPS-GSM transmitter have made it possible to better understand the geographical connectivity, migration routes, and key sites of summer stays and migration stopovers of individuals of this species that nest in the center of the European part of Russia. Flyways and wintering sites have been traced and key and short-term migration stopovers have been identified in the arid areas of Ukraine, Turkey, Israel, and Ethiopia. It has been established that the crane used different wintering grounds in different years. It has been revealed that immature cranes of the Dubna premigratory gathering (Moscow Region) can use areas where other premigratory gatherings are formed, in particular, in Smolensk Region. Successful nesting of a common crane at the age of 3 years noticed.
Seabird morphology determines operational wind speeds, tolerable maxima, and responses to extremes
2023-02, Nourani, Elham, Safi, Kamran, de Grissac, Sophie, Anderson, David J., Cole, Nik C., Fell, Adam, Grémillet, David, Lempidakis, Emmanouil, Lerma, Miriam, Wikelski, Martin
Storms can cause widespread seabird stranding and wrecking,1,2,3,4,5 yet little is known about the maximum wind speeds that birds are able to tolerate or the conditions they avoid. We analyzed >300,000 h of tracking data from 18 seabird species, including flapping and soaring fliers, to assess how flight morphology affects wind selectivity, both at fine scales (hourly movement steps) and across the breeding season. We found no general preference or avoidance of particular wind speeds within foraging tracks. This suggests seabird flight morphology is adapted to a “wind niche,” with higher wing loading being selected in windier environments. In support of this, wing loading was positively related to the median wind speeds on the breeding grounds, as well as the maximum wind speeds in which birds flew. Yet globally, the highest wind speeds occur in the tropics (in association with tropical cyclones) where birds are morphologically adapted to low median wind speeds. Tropical species must therefore show behavioral responses to extreme winds, including long-range avoidance of wind speeds that can be twice their operable maxima. By contrast, Procellariiformes flew in almost all wind speeds they encountered at a seasonal scale. Despite this, we describe a small number of cases where albatrosses avoided strong winds at close range, including by flying into the eye of the storm. Extreme winds appear to pose context-dependent risks to seabirds, and more information is needed on the factors that determine the hierarchy of risk, given the impact of global change on storm intensity.6,7
SMART-BARN : Scalable multimodal arena for real-time tracking behavior of animals in large numbers
2023-09, Nagy, Mate, Naik, Hemal, Kano, Fumihiro, Carlson, Nora V., Koblitz, Jens C., Wikelski, Martin, Couzin, Iain D.
The SMART-BARN (scalable multimodal arena for real-time tracking behavior of animals in large numbers) achieves fast, robust acquisition of movement, behavior, communication, and interactions of animals in groups, within a large (14.7 meters by 6.6 meters by 3.8 meters), three-dimensional environment using multiple information channels. Behavior is measured from a wide range of taxa (insects, birds, mammals, etc.) and body size (from moths to humans) simultaneously. This system integrates multiple, concurrent measurement techniques including submillimeter precision and high-speed (300 hertz) motion capture, acoustic recording and localization, automated behavioral recognition (computer vision), and remote computer-controlled interactive units (e.g., automated feeders and animal-borne devices). The data streams are available in real time allowing highly controlled and behavior-dependent closed-loop experiments, while producing comprehensive datasets for offline analysis. The diverse capabilities of SMART-BARN are demonstrated through three challenging avian case studies, while highlighting its broad applicability to the fine-scale analysis of collective animal behavior across species.
Behavioral responses of terrestrial mammals to COVID-19 lockdowns
2023-06-09, Tucker, Marlee A., Schipper, Aafke M., Adams, Tempe S. F., Attias, Nina, Avgar, Tal, Davidson, Sarah C., Loretto, Matthias-Claudio, Müller, Rebekka, Ellis Soto, Diego, Wikelski, Martin
COVID-19 lockdowns in early 2020 reduced human mobility, providing an opportunity to disentangle its effects on animals from those of landscape modifications. Using GPS data, we compared movements and road avoidance of 2300 terrestrial mammals (43 species) during the lockdowns to the same period in 2019. Individual responses were variable with no change in average movements or road avoidance behavior, likely due to variable lockdown conditions. However, under strict lockdowns 10-day 95th percentile displacements increased by 73%, suggesting increased landscape permeability. Animals’ 1-hour 95th percentile displacements declined by 12% and animals were 36% closer to roads in areas of high human footprint, indicating reduced avoidance during lockdowns. Overall, lockdowns rapidly altered some spatial behaviors, highlighting variable but substantial impacts of human mobility on wildlife worldwide.
White stork movements reveal the ecological connectivity between landfills and different habitats
2023-03-28, López-Calderón, Cosme, Martín-Vélez, Víctor, Blas, Julio, Höfle, Ursula, Sánchez, Marta I., Flack, Andrea, Fiedler, Wolfgang, Wikelski, Martin, Green, Andy J.
Background Connections between habitats are key to a full understanding of anthropic impacts on ecosystems. Freshwater habitats are especially biodiverse, yet depend on exchange with terrestrial habitats. White storks ( Ciconia ciconia ) are widespread opportunists that often forage in landfills and then visit wetlands, among other habitats. It is well known that white storks ingest contaminants at landfills (such as plastics and antibiotic resistant bacteria), which can be then deposited in other habitats through their faeces and regurgitated pellets. Methods We characterized the role of white storks in habitat connectivity by analyzing GPS data from populations breeding in Germany and wintering from Spain to Morocco. We overlaid GPS tracks on a land-use surface to construct a spatially-explicit network in which nodes were sites, and links were direct flights. We then calculated centrality metrics, identified spatial modules, and quantified overall connections between habitat types. For regional networks in southern Spain and northern Morocco, we built Exponential Random Graph Models (ERGMs) to explain network topologies as a response to node habitat. Results For Spain and Morocco combined, we built a directed spatial network with 114 nodes and 370 valued links. Landfills were the habitat type most connected to others, as measured by direct flights. The relevance of landfills was confirmed in both ERGMs, with significant positive effects of this habitat as a source of flights. In the ERGM for southern Spain, we found significant positive effects of rice fields and salines (solar saltworks) as sinks for flights. By contrast, in the ERGM for northern Morocco, we found a significant positive effect of marshes as a sink for flights. Conclusions These results illustrate how white storks connect landfills with terrestrial and aquatic habitats, some of which are managed for food production. We identified specific interconnected habitat patches across Spain and Morocco that could be used for further studies on biovectoring of pollutants, pathogens and other propagules.
Accelerometer-based detection of African swine fever infection in wild boar
2023-08-30, Morelle, Kevin, Barasona, Jose Angel, Bosch, Jaime, Heine, Georg, Daim, Andreas, Arnold, Janosch, Bauch, Toralf, Zúñiga Sepúlveda, Daniel Sebastián, Wikelski, Martin, Safi, Kamran
Infectious wildlife diseases that circulate at the interface with domestic animals pose significant threats worldwide and require early detection and warning. Although animal tracking technologies are used to discern behavioural changes, they are rarely used to monitor wildlife diseases. Common disease-induced behavioural changes include reduced activity and lethargy (‘sickness behaviour’). Here, we investigated whether accelerometer sensors could detect the onset of African swine fever (ASF), a viral infection that induces high mortality in suids for which no vaccine is currently available. Taking advantage of an experiment designed to test an oral ASF vaccine, we equipped 12 wild boars with an accelerometer tag and quantified how ASF affects their activity pattern and behavioural fingerprint, using overall dynamic body acceleration. Wild boars showed a daily reduction in activity of 10–20% from the healthy to the viremia phase. Using change point statistics and comparing healthy individuals living in semi-free and free-ranging conditions, we show how the onset of disease-induced sickness can be detected and how such early detection could work in natural settings. Timely detection of infection in animals is crucial for disease surveillance and control, and accelerometer technology on sentinel animals provides a viable complementary tool to existing disease management approaches.
A novel kinetic energy harvesting system for lifetime deployments of wildlife trackers
2023-05-17, Gregersen, Troels, Wild, Timm A., Havmøller, Linnea Worsøe, Møller, Peter Rask, Lenau, Torben Anker, Wikelski, Martin, Havmøller, Rasmus Worsøe
Wildlife tracking devices are key in obtaining detailed insights on movement, animal migration, natal dispersal, home-ranges, resource use and group dynamics of free-roaming animals. Despite a wide use of such devices, tracking for entire lifetimes is still a considerable challenge for most animals, mainly due to technological limitations. Deploying battery powered wildlife tags on smaller animals is limited by the mass of the devices. Micro-sized devices with solar panels sometimes solve this challenge, however, nocturnal species or animals living under low light conditions render solar cells all but useless. For larger animals, where battery weight can be higher, battery longevity becomes the main challenge. Several studies have proposed solutions to these limitations, including harvesting thermal and kinetic energy on animals. However, these concepts are limited by size and weight. In this study, we used a small, lightweight kinetic energy harvesting unit as the power source for a custom wildlife tracking device to investigate its suitability for lifetime animal tracking. We integrated a Kinetron MSG32 microgenerator and a state-of-the-art lithium-ion capacitor (LIC) into a custom GPS-enabled tracking device that is capable of remotely transmitting data via the Sigfox ‘Internet of Things’ network. Prototypes were tested on domestic dog (n = 4), wild-roaming Exmoor pony (n = 1) and wisent (n = 1). One of the domestic dogs generated up to 10.04 joules of energy in a day, while the Exmoor pony and wisent generated on average 0.69 joules and 2.38 joules per day, respectively. Our results show a significant difference in energy generation between animal species and mounting method, but also highlight the potential for this technology to be a meaningful advancement in ecological research requiring lifetime tracking of animals. The design of the Kinefox is provided open source.
A multi-species evaluation of digital wildlife monitoring using the Sigfox IoT network
2023-03-25, Wild, Timm A., van Schalkwyk, Louis, Heine, Georg, Richter, Nina, Vorneweg, Bernd, Koblitz, Jens C., Dechmann, Dina K. N., Partecke, Jesko, Linek, Nils Benjamin, Volkmer, Tamara, Gregersen, Troels, Havmøller, Rasmus W., Morelle, Kevin, Fiedler, Wolfgang, Wikelski, Martin
Bio-telemetry from small tags attached to animals is one of the principal methods for studying the ecology and behaviour of wildlife. The field has constantly evolved over the last 80 years as technological improvement enabled a diversity of sensors to be integrated into the tags (e.g., GPS, accelerometers, etc.). However, retrieving data from tags on free-ranging animals remains a challenge since satellite and GSM networks are relatively expensive and or power hungry. Recently a new class of low-power communication networks have been developed and deployed worldwide to connect the internet of things (IoT). Here, we evaluated one of these, the Sigfox IoT network, for the potential as a real-time multi-sensor data retrieval and tag commanding system for studying fauna across a diversity of species and ecosystems. We tracked 312 individuals across 30 species (from 25 g bats to 3 t elephants) with seven different device concepts, resulting in more than 177,742 successful transmissions. We found a maximum line of sight communication distance of 280 km (on a flying cape vulture [ Gyps coprotheres ]), which sets a new documented record for animal-borne digital data transmission using terrestrial infrastructure. The average transmission success rate amounted to 68.3% (SD 22.1) on flying species and 54.1% (SD 27.4) on terrestrial species. In addition to GPS data, we also collected and transmitted data products from accelerometers, barometers, and thermometers. Further, we assessed the performance of Sigfox Atlas Native, a low-power method for positional estimates based on radio signal strengths and found a median accuracy of 12.89 km (MAD 5.17) on animals. We found that robust real-time communication (median message delay of 1.49 s), the extremely small size of the tags (starting at 1.28 g without GPS), and the low power demands (as low as 5.8 µAh per transmitted byte) unlock new possibilities for ecological data collection and global animal observation.