LoRa Technology for Wildlife Tracking

New communications technology has made it possible to track fine-scale movements of wildlife, enabling researchers to understand the factors that influence local and migratory movements of a huge variety of species. However, this technology has generally been limited due to device energy consumption and high costs, limiting research to short periods and a limited number of individuals. Furthermore, assessing what actually drives movement behavior through experimentation and manipulation at a landscape scale is rarely possible. 

We partnered American Prairie Reserve to create the largest movement field lab in the world, with the potential to cover 3000-5000 km2. As a pilot study, we installed a LoRa communication system on the Sun Prairie unit of the American Prairie Reserve. The system was funded by National Geographic. LoRa is a long range, low power wireless platform technology for Internet of Things (IoT) networks worldwide. One LoRa antenna can cover an area of 200-300 km2 (dependent on topography).

Last January (2020) we worked tagged 90 individuals using LoRa compatible livestock GPS eartags during APR’s bison roundup. The individuals were corralled in handled in a special facility designed by APR. One by one a team of over 30 people moved the bison in the facility, we placed the GPS ear-tag, and off they went back to freedom.

Tags made by an Australian company named mOOvement, are lightweight (35g) and equipped with a solar panel that can power the unit for up to five years. That means we can tag any class age: calves, juveniles, adults females or huge males.

The data will be the first of its kind in the world, tracking a third of the herd simultaneously over long periods. The data will able us to investigate social interactions, behavior, and movement patterns in a novel way. In the future, we hope to manipulate movement via removal of fencing, to understand how social herd species overcome obstacles and inform landscape connectivity and permeability mitigation measures.

Animation of LoRa tagged bison at American Prairie Reserve. Each color represents an individual. 

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