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ESR 39:255-268 (2019)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00967

Developing low-cost tags: assessing the ecological impacts of tethered tag technology on host species

Jesse F. Senko1,2,*, William M. Megill3,4, Louise B. Brooks5, Robert P. Templeton3, Volker Koch6,7

1School for the Future of Innovation in Society, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287, USA
2School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287, USA
3Ocean Technologies Laboratory, Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Bath, Bath BA2 7AY, UK
4Faculty of Technology and Bionics, Rhine-Waal University of Applied Sciences, 47533 Kleve, Germany
5Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, Moss Landing, CA 95039, USA
6Departamento de Ecología Marina, Centro de Investigación Científica y Educación Superior de Ensenada, 22860 Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico
7Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, 53113 Bonn, Germany
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Understanding and mitigating potential effects of tags on instrumented animals is a crucial consideration when developing new tracking techniques. Some populations of aquatic megafauna spend the majority of their lives occupying small home ranges, yet conventional fine-scale tracking methods generally provide a limited number of non-continuous locations, while new technology is cost prohibitive. We developed a low-cost tethered telemetry system (<185 USD tag-1) for short-term tracking of marine turtles in nearshore environments that incorporated standard GPS data loggers and VHF transmitters into buoyant tags of 3 different designs. We then estimated the drag of each tethered tag using an instrumented flow tunnel, deployed them on free-living green turtles along Mexico’s Baja California peninsula, and compared movement patterns of turtles equipped with high- and low-drag tags. All tags provided high-resolution tracks that ranged from 5.2 to 184.0 h (mean ± SD = 43.2 ± 37.8 h; n = 26 turtles) for a total of 1122 h. We found that the first 2 tag designs increased drag on large juveniles at typical swimming speeds by approximately 7 to 10%, which is comparable to predicted drag increases incurred by similarly sized green turtles from most commercially available electronic tags. By contrast, the third tag design increased drag by 1% or less. Turtles fitted with the high-drag tags made fewer course changes and exhibited straighter (less tortuous) movements than those fitted with the low-drag tags. Although it is unclear if the observed behavioral differences were due entirely to the tags, our results highlight the importance of evaluating potential ecological impacts of telemetry devices on host species, particularly when developing new technology.


KEY WORDS: Animal movements · Animal tags · Behavior · Hydrodynamic drag · Megafauna · Sea turtle · Tagging · Tracking


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Cite this article as: Senko JF, Megill WM, Brooks LB, Templeton RP, Koch V (2019) Developing low-cost tags: assessing the ecological impacts of tethered tag technology on host species. Endang Species Res 39:255-268. https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00967

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