Analysis of animal ecological and social networks with programmable sensor nodes

Natural behaviour of animals takes place in complex environments, allowing for a wealth of social and ecological interactions. While laboratory studies have been extremely useful to identify individual mechanisms of behaviour, the functioning of such behaviour in natural environments is still only poorly understood. Efficient means of animal monitoring in the wild as well as tools for modelling complex systems are required for a deeper understanding of phenomena such as spatial cognition, optimal foraging, social behaviour and learning, or multi-species interactions. Current telemetric approaches to animal monitoring are often limited by the range and bandwidth of radio-transmission, especially in large, subterranean, or under-water environments.

In this interdisciplinary project (in cooperation with the Department of Zoology at Tübingen University), we develop a novel system for animal surveillance in the wild, using tiny sensor node technology. Programmable sensor nodes with a multitude of sensing capabilities attached to the animals will record data such as motion, vocalizations, and body temperature of the carrier. Upon encounter of another animal, sensor nodes interact, exchange and aggregate data on the time and participants of the meeting. Stationary base nodes at occasionally visited, but easily accessible locations will be used to collect the animal data for further analysis, including trajectory reconstruction, daily activity profiles, and interaction graphs.

The challenges in terms of communication are the sporadic general connectivity and the lack of continous end-to-end connections due to the subterranean environment and limited size and carrying capacities of the animals under research. Sophisticated delay tolerant networking schemes have to be devised to meet these challenges.




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