February 21, 2008

System Tracks How Animals Interact with Environment

A collaborative effort between Microsoft, the University of Oxford and Freie Universitat, Berlin has resulted in a new GPS tracking system that can be adapted to study how animals interact with their environment.

Last summer researchers installed the system of wireless sensors and GPS trackers which are already shedding light on the behavior of manx shearwaters on Skomer Nature Reserve.

Robin Freeman, one of the lead scientists of the project, said the team hopes the project will allow them to study how different animals react to climate change and pollution.

Freeman said that the new method could be more efficient as opposed to the previous technique of physically gathering information. This field study was harder to perform because the manx shearwater is a nocturnal species that is known to travel long distances in search of food.

"The importance of this system is its ability to monitor animals autonomously over greater distances and more frequently and consistently that previously possible," he added.

He went on to explain that the results of the new GPS system allows the team to gain further knowledge of the species' feeding and breeding grounds, which could promote conservation efforts.

"At Skomer we wanted to trial and pilot the technology to make sure it did not impact on them."

By using the observed pattern, they hope to identify the effect changes in climate, pollution, or human activity had on the birds and act as "an early warning system," he told BBC News.

"We are talking to a number of parties about using the technology in a number of different environments."