An active-radio-frequency-identification system capable of identifying co-locations and social-structure: Validation with a wild free-ranging animal
Methods in Ecology and Evolution
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Ellwood, S., Newman, C., Montgomery, R., Nicosia, V., Buesching, C., Markham, A., Mascolo, C., et al. (2017). An active-radio-frequency-identification system capable of identifying co-locations and social-structure: Validation with a wild free-ranging animal. Methods in Ecology and Evolution, 8 (12), 1822-1831. https://doi.org/10.1111/2041-210X.12839
Behavioural events that are important for understanding sociobiology and movement ecology are often rare, transient and localised, but can occur at spatially distant sites e.g. territorial incursions and co-locating individuals. Existing animal tracking technologies, capable of detecting such events, are limited by one or more of: battery life; data resolution; location accuracy; data security; ability to co-locate individuals both spatially and temporally. Technology that at least partly resolves these limitations would be advantageous. European badgers (Meles meles L.), present a challenging test-bed, with extra-group paternity (apparent from genotyping) contradicting established views on rigid group territoriality with little social-group mixing. In a proof of concept study we assess the utility of a fully automated Active-Radio-Frequency-Identification (aRFID) system combining badger-borne aRFID-tags with static, wirelessly-networked, aRFID-detector base-stations to record badger co-locations at setts (burrows) and near notional border latrines. We summarise the time badgers spent co-locating within and between social-groups, applying network analysis to provide evidence of co-location based community structure, at both these scales. The aRFID system co-located animals within 31.5 m (adjustable) of base-stations. Efficient radio transmission between aRFIDs and base-stations enables a 20 g tag to last for 2-5 years (depending on transmission interval). Data security was high (data stored off tag), with remote access capability. Badgers spent most co-location time with members of their own social-groups at setts; remaining co-location time was divided evenly between intra- and inter-social-group co-locations near latrines and inter-social-group co-locations at setts. Network analysis showed that 20-100% of tracked badgers engaged in inter-social-group mixing per week, with evidence of trans-border super-groups, i.e., badgers frequently transgressed notional territorial borders. aRFID occupies a distinct niche amongst established tracking technologies. We validated the utility of aRFID to identify co-locations, social-structure and inter-group mixing within a wild badger population, leading us to refute the conventional view that badgers (social-groups) are territorial and to question management strategies, for controlling bovine TB, based on this model. Ultimately aRFID proved a versatile system capable of identifying social-structure at the landscape scale, operating for years and suitable for use with a range of species.
EPSRC WILDSENSING project
External DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/2041-210X.12839
This record's URL: https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/266654