The golden age of bio-logging: how animal-borne sensors are advancing the frontiers of ecology

Ecology. 2015 Jul;96(7):1741-53. doi: 10.1890/14-1401.1.


Great leaps forward in scientific understanding are often spurred by innovations in technology. The explosion of miniature sensors that are driving the boom in consumer electronics, such as smart phones, gaming platforms, and wearable fitness devices, are now becoming available to ecologists for remotely monitoring the activities of wild animals. While half a century ago researchers were attaching balloons to the backs of seals to measure their movement, today ecologists have access to an arsenal of sensors that can continuously measure most aspects of an animal's state (e.g., location, behavior, caloric expenditure, interactions with other animals) and external environment (e.g., temperature, salinity, depth). This technology is advancing our ability to study animal ecology by allowing researchers to (1) answer questions about the physiology, behavior, and ecology of wild animals in situ that would have previously been limited to tests on model organisms in highly controlled settings, (2) study cryptic or wide-ranging animals that have previously evaded investigation, and (3) develop and test entirely new theories. Here we explore how ecologists are using these tools to answer new questions about the physiological performance, energetics, foraging, migration, habitat selection, and sociality of wild animals, as well as collect data on the environments in which they live.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Accelerometry / instrumentation*
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal*
  • Conservation of Natural Resources
  • Ecosystem
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Monitoring, Physiologic / instrumentation
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Telemetry / instrumentation*