Animal tag technology keeps coming of age : an engineering perspective
Animal-borne tags (biologgers) have now become extremely sophisticated, recording data from multiple sensors at high frequencies for long periods and, as such, have become a powerful tool for behavioural ecologists and physiologists studying wild animals. But the design and implementation of these tags is not trivial because engineers have to maximize performance and ability to function under onerous conditions while minimizing tag mass and volume (footprint) to maximize the wellbeing of the animal carriers. We present some of the major issues faced by tag engineers and show how tag designers must accept compromises while maintaining systems that can answer the questions being posed. We also argue that basic understanding of engineering issues in tag design by biologists will help feedback to engineers to better tag construction but also reduce the likelihood that tag-deploying biologists will misunderstand their own results. Finally, we suggest that proper consideration of conventional technology together with new approaches will lead to further step changes in our understanding of wild-animal biology using smart tags. This article is part of the theme issue 'Measuring physiology in free-living animals (Part II)'.