Performance of Encounternet Tags: Field Tests of Miniaturized Proximity Loggers for Use on Small Birds

PLoS One. 2015 Sep 8;10(9):e0137242. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0137242. eCollection 2015.


Proximity logging is a new tool for understanding social behavior as it allows for accurate quantification of social networks. We report results from field calibration and deployment tests of miniaturized proximity tags (Encounternet), digital transceivers that log encounters between tagged individuals. We examined radio signal behavior in relation to tag attachment (tag, tag on bird, tag on saline-filled balloon) to understand how radio signal strength is affected by the tag mounting technique used for calibration tests. We investigated inter-tag and inter-receiver station variability, and in each calibration test we accounted for the effects of antennae orientation. Additionally, we used data from a live deployment on breeding barn swallows (Hirundo rustica erythrogaster) to analyze the quality of the logs, including reciprocal agreement in dyadic logs. We evaluated the impact (in terms of mass changes) of tag attachment on the birds. We were able to statistically distinguish between RSSI values associated with different close-proximity (<5 m) tag-tag distances regardless of antennae orientation. Inter-tag variability was low, but we did find significant inter-receiver station variability. Reciprocal agreement of dyadic logs was high and social networks were constructed from proximity tag logs based on two different RSSI thresholds. There was no evidence of significant mass loss in the time birds were wearing tags. We conclude that proximity loggers are accurate and effective for quantifying social behavior. However, because RSSI and distance cannot be perfectly resolved, data from proximity loggers are most appropriate for comparing networks based on specific RSSI thresholds. The Encounternet system is flexible and customizable, and tags are now light enough for use on small animals (<50 g).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Social Behavior*
  • Swallows / physiology*
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*

Grant support

Funding for this research was provided by a University of Colorado Innovative Seed Grant award. I. Levin was supported by a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Research Fellowship No. 1306059. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.