Tracking animals in freshwater with electronic tags: past, present and future

Animal Biotelemetry

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DOI: 10.1186/2050-3385-1-5



Considerable technical developments over the past half century have enabled widespread application of electronic tags to the study of animals in the wild, including in freshwater environments. We review the constraints associated with freshwater telemetry and biologging and the technical developments relevant to their use. Technical constraints for tracking animals are often influenced by the characteristics of the animals being studied and the environment they inhabit. Collectively, they influence which and how technologies can be used and their relative effectiveness. Although radio telemetry has historically been the most commonly used technology in freshwater, passive integrated transponder (PIT) technology, acoustic telemetry and biologgers are becoming more popular. Most telemetry studies have focused on fish, although an increasing number have focused on other taxa, such as turtles, crustaceans and molluscs. Key technical developments for freshwater systems include: miniaturization of tags for tracking small-size life stages and species, fixed stations and coded tags for tracking large samples of animals over long distances and large temporal scales, inexpensive PIT systems that enable mass tagging to yield population- and community-level relevant sample sizes, incorporation of sensors into electronic tags, validation of tag attachment procedures with a focus on maintaining animal welfare, incorporation of different techniques (for example, genetics, stable isotopes) and peripheral technologies (for example, geographic information systems, hydroacoustics), development of novel analytical techniques, and extensive international collaboration. Innovations are still needed in tag miniaturization, data analysis and visualization, and in tracking animals over larger spatial scales (for example, pelagic areas of lakes) and in challenging environments (for example, large dynamic floodplain systems, under ice). There seems to be a particular need for adapting various global positioning system and satellite tagging approaches to freshwater. Electronic tagging provides a mechanism to collect detailed information from imperilled animals and species that have no direct economic value. Current and future advances will continue to improve our knowledge of the natural history of aquatic animals and ecological processes in freshwater ecosystems while facilitating evidence-based resource management and conservation.

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
Journal Article
Tracking animals in freshwater with electronic tags: past, present and future
Series title:
Animal Biotelemetry
Year Published:
Contributing office(s):
Hammond Bay Biological Station
19 p.
Larger Work Type:
Larger Work Subtype:
Journal Article
Larger Work Title:
Animal Biotelemetry
United States