Field Physiology: Studying Organismal Function in the Natural Environment

Compr Physiol. 2021 Jun 30;11(3):1979-2015. doi: 10.1002/cphy.c200005.


Continuous physiological measurements collected in field settings are essential to understand baseline, free-ranging physiology, physiological range and variability, and the physiological responses of organisms to disturbances. This article presents a current summary of the available technologies to continuously measure the direct physiological parameters in the field at high-resolution/instantaneous timescales from freely behaving animals. There is a particular focus on advantages versus disadvantages of available methods as well as emerging technologies "on the horizon" that may have been validated in captive or laboratory-based scenarios but have yet to be applied in the wild. Systems to record physiological variables from free-ranging animals are reviewed, including radio (VHF/UFH) telemetry, acoustic telemetry, and dataloggers. Physiological parameters that have been continuously measured in the field are addressed in seven sections including heart rate and electrocardiography (ECG); electromyography (EMG); electroencephalography (EEG); body temperature; respiratory, blood, and muscle oxygen; gastric pH and motility; and blood pressure and flow. The primary focal sections are heart rate and temperature as these can be, and have been, extensively studied in free-ranging organisms. Predicted aspects of future innovation in physiological monitoring are also discussed. The article concludes with an overview of best practices and points to consider regarding experimental designs, cautions, and effects on animals. © 2021 American Physiological Society. Compr Physiol 11:1979-2015, 2021.

Keywords: datalogger; free ranging; heart rate; oxygen; physiology; telemetry; temperature.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blood Pressure
  • Electrocardiography*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Heart Rate
  • Telemetry*