Effects of back‐mounted biologgers on condition, diving and flight performance in a breeding seabird


Biologging devices are providing detailed insights into the behaviour and movement of animals in their natural environments. It is usually assumed that this method of gathering data does not impact on the behaviour observed. However, potential negative effects on birds have rarely been investigated before field‐based studies are initiated. Seabirds which both fly and use pursuit diving may be particularly sensitive to increases in drag and load resulting from carrying biologging devices.

We studied chick‐rearing adult common guillemots Uria aalge equipped with and without back‐mounted GPS tags over short deployments of a few days. Concurrently guillemots carried small leg‐mounted TDR devices (time‐depth recorders) providing activity data throughout. Changes in body mass and breeding success were followed for device equipped and control guillemots. At the colony level guillemots lost body mass throughout the chick‐rearing period. When‐equipped with the additional GPS tag, the guillemots lost mass at close to twice the rate they did when equipped with only the smaller leg‐mounted TDR device. The elevated mass loss suggests an impact on energy expenditure or foraging performance. When equipped with GPS tags diving performance, time‐activity budgets and daily patterns of activity were unchanged, yet dive depth distributions differed.

We review studies of tag‐effects in guillemots Uria sp. finding elevated mass loss and reduced chick‐provisioning to be the most commonly observed effects. Less information is available for behavioural measures, and results vary between studies. In general, small tags deployed over several days appear to have small or no measurable effect on the behavioural variables commonly observed in most guillemot tagging studies. However, there may still be impacts on fitness via physiological effects and/or reduced chick‐provisioning, while more detailed measures of behaviour (e.g. using accelerometery) may reveal effects on diving and flight performance.


Link to centre authors: Olsson, Olof
Publication info: Evans, T.J., Young, R.C., Watson, H, Olsson, O., Åkesson, S. 2020. Effects of back‐mounted biologgers on condition, diving and flight performance in a breeding seabird. Journal of Avian Biology, Volume 51, Issue 11, November 2020, https://doi.org/10.1111/jav.02509