Tiny Labs on the Backs of Birds, Tracking Migration
Tracking the migration of birds—especially smaller species like songbirds—will now be much easier with the development of new lightweight, solar-powered tags that can even outlast the lifespans of most birds. In development by David W. Winkler, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and collaborators, the new tags will revolutionize real-time monitoring of migration and dispersal by decreasing the burden on the birds, as well as eliminating the need to recapture birds to collect data.
Winkler and his team will continue to improve two types of tags, a general-purpose programmable tag (GPT) and a digital turnstile tag (DTT). The GPT will be smaller than half a gram, greatly expanding the number of species that can be tagged without perturbation. The DTT will be closer to one gram in mass but will have the capacity to essentially be a lab-on-a-bird, with the possibility for hosting a broad array of sensing applications. As a baseline, the DTTs will leverage all the progress that has been made recently with geolocation loggers, allowing researchers to track a much wider range of species over their lifetimes.
Engineering students, professional engineers, and biologists will work together on design and production, and the students will have the opportunity to see their designs applied to real-world questions about wildlife biology and conservation. Winkler and others are also emphasizing accessibility and will make multi-purpose environmental sensor boards available on Seeed Studio, an open access website for sharing new technology, as well as instructions for design and construction techniques.