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5 December 2018 Testing the feasibility of wireless sensor networks and the use of radio signal strength indicator to track the movements of wild animals
C. R. Krull, L. F. McMillan, R. M. Fewster, R. van der Ree, R. Pech, T. Dennis, M. C. Stanley
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Abstract

Context. Wireless sensor networks (WSNs) are revolutionising areas of animal behaviour research and are advantageous based on their ability to be deployed remotely and unobtrusively, for long time periods in inaccessible areas.

Aims. We aimed to determine the feasibility of using a WSN to track detailed movement paths of small animals, e.g. rats (Rattus spp.) 100–400 g, too small for current GPS technology, by calibrating active Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags and loggers using Radio Frequency Signal Strength Indicator (RSSI) as a proxy for distance. Active RFIDs are also called Wireless Identification (WID) tags.

Methods. Calibration tests were conducted using a grid of loggers (n = 16) spaced at 45-m intervals in clear line-of-sight conditions. WID tags (n = 16) were placed between the loggers at 45-m intervals. Eight ‘walks’ were also conducted through the grid using a single WID tag. This involved attaching the tag to a small bottle of water (to simulate the body of an animal), towed around the grid using a 1-m long tow line attached to a volunteer walker. The volunteer also held a GPS device that logged their track. Models were constructed to test the effects of distance, tag movement and individual differences in loggers and tags on the reliability of movement data.

Key results. Loggers were most successful at detecting tags at distances <50 m. However, there was a significant difference in the detection probabilities of individual loggers and also the transmission performance of individual tags. Static tags were less likely to be detected than the mobile tag; and although RSSI was somewhat related to distance, the reliability of this parameter was highly variable.

Implications. We recommend caution in the future use of current radio frequency ID tags in wireless sensor networks to track the movement of small animals, and in the use of RSSI as an indicator of individual distance values, as extensive in situ calibration is required. ‘Off the shelf’ devices may vary in performance, rendering data unreliable. We emphasise the importance of calibrating all equipment in animal tracking studies to reduce data uncertainty and error.

© CSIRO 2018
C. R. Krull, L. F. McMillan, R. M. Fewster, R. van der Ree, R. Pech, T. Dennis, and M. C. Stanley "Testing the feasibility of wireless sensor networks and the use of radio signal strength indicator to track the movements of wild animals," Wildlife Research 45(8), 659-667, (5 December 2018). https://doi.org/10.1071/WR18013
Received: 25 January 2018; Accepted: 15 August 2018; Published: 5 December 2018
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KEYWORDS
calibration
proximity studies
Radio Frequency Identification
RFID
testing tracking devices
wildlife sensing
Wireless Identification tags
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