April 2 (UPI) -- Researchers have developed a wireless network capable of tracking small animals tagged with sensors.
The new technology -- described Thursday in the journal PLOS Biology -- could help scientists compile tracking data for local populations of small animals without relying on heavy transmitters and satellite communication systems.
Automated tracking methods have made it much easier for scientists to study the behavior and migration patterns of animals species, but monitoring smaller animals still presents problems. Many tracking sensors are too heavy for smaller bird and mammal species, which account for the majority of the animal kingdom.
Additionally, the use of satellite communication systems for the retrieval of local tracking data requires significant amounts of energy. It's also expensive.
To solve these problems, researchers at the Leibniz Institute for Evolution and Biodiversity Science in Germany developed a new kind of wireless biologging network, which automatically fields tracking signals from small, lightweight sensors. The new system can generate a temporal resolution of animal movements in a matter of seconds.
Researchers built a test system in a small patch of forest in Germany. First, scientists planted 17 wireless localization nodes. Then, researchers attached light-weight mobile nodes to several specimens from a local mouse-eared bat population.
The wireless network successfully tracked the flights and interactions of all the tagged bats, yielding a map of flight trajectories and a high resolution social network.
Authors of the new study expect their technology to enhance the study of small animal populations that move across confined spaces, especially habitats where the transmission of a wireless signal is difficult.
"Key to success in this project was the close collaboration among biologists, computer scientists, and electrical engineers," Simon Ripperger, researcher at the Leibniz Institute for Evolution and Biodiversity Science, said in a news release. "Thanks to the high level of miniaturization of the animal-borne tags, we can now collect data of unprecedented quantity and quality that allows us studying the behavior of small animals in much greater detail."
Data collected during their wireless network's test run showed bat mothers shepherd their offspring to new roosts, and localized tracking data previously revealed that social relationships in vampire bats that formed in the lab persist in the wild.
"In the future, we plan to expand our work to other taxonomic groups -- a method that allows tracking bats is also likely to work for other small animals such as reptiles or songbirds," Ripperger said.