A meta-analysis of the effects of geolocator application on birds
Faculty of Sciences. Biology
Current zoology. - -
, p. 697-706
University of Antwerp
An increasing trend in use of tracking devices such as geolocators is based on the assumption that the information gathered from such devices provides reliable information about the migratory behavior of free-living birds. This underlying assumption is rarely tested, as evidenced by the absence in many studies of controls, in particular treated controls, and so far never with a reasonable statistical power. Published studies have shown reduced survival prospects or delayed breeding in some species, suggesting that there may be reason to doubt that tracking devices provide unbiased information. Therefore, we conducted a meta-analysis of studies applying geolocators to wild birds to determine whether geolocators affected fitness components. Geolocators had an overall negative effect on fitness components, in particular survival, and ecological variables. Effect size was larger for aerial foragers than for other species. Moreover the leg band attachment method was more detrimental for birds than the leg-loop backpack harness. A meta-regression model of effect size showed independent negative effects of geolocators on aerial foragers, smaller species, species with smaller migration distances and in studies where geolocators were attached with a ring. These results suggest that geolocator studies should be interpreted with caution, but also raise questions whether it is ethically defensible to use geolocators on aerial foragers or small species without carrying out robust pilot studies.