The Future of Solar Geolocation Tracking is NOW

Post provided by Julia Karagicheva, Theunis Piersma and Eldar Rakhimberdiev

Black-tailed godwit with leg-mounted solar geolocator. ©Jan van de Kam

Black-tailed godwit with leg-mounted solar geolocator. ©Jan van de Kam

Working on FLightR, the package for analysis of data obtained from solar geolocation tracking devices, we were haunted by the unpleasant feeling of investing in technology which will soon be out of date. Until now solar geolocators have been popular in ornithological studies. This is because they’re small, light-weight (< 1/3 g) tracking devices that can be deployed even on miniature birds, such as swallows and warblers. They’ve also been the longest-lasting data loggers, with the most storage space and, of course, the most affordable ones.

Are Solar Geolocators Finished?

There are apparent drawbacks of using this technique though. To begin with, solar geolocation simply does not work for some species. You can’t use it to study birds living in dense tropical forests or in cavities, because of the light-pattern bias. For the same reason, it doesn’t provide fantastic results in light-polluted areas. Data from geolocators cannot be retrieved remotely, and this is why you need to have high recapture rates for the species you’re studying.   Continue reading

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