100,000 sentinel animals to monitor the environment

It has been repeatedly reported that certain animals modify their behavior and anticipate, for example, the approach of a storm or an earthquake. Valuable information for monitoring the environment that could be exploited through a huge biolocation network, connecting tagged animals to the International Space Station. A study published on Trends in Ecology & Evolution, on April 1, 2022, details what this alternative internet could look like, made up of sentinel animals capable of transmitting a multitude of data across the world and in real time. First step: tag 100,000 animals to test this ambitious project.

A blackbird, pioneer of the “Internet of Animals”

This system was proven for the first time in September 2020, thanks to a blackbird. While the bird, equipped with a beacon in Belarus, made its migratory flight towards Albania, this one emitted towards the ISS which then passed above, at some 410 kilometers of altitude. It was the receiver of the International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space (ICARUS), located on a Russian module of the ISS, which recovered data on the location and recent comings and goings of the blackbird. The data file was then transmitted to Earth. This reception of only 223 bytes opened a new era for the detection from space of tagged animals: it is the first time that a bird’s tag transmits its data to the ISS.

This digital technology is inspired by the Internet of Things (IoT), or Web of Things, a term that refers to all physical objects connected to the Internet (watch, glasses, car). It is capable of relaying the position and behavior of several equipped species and could offer the opportunity to follow the movements of thousands of animals. Thanks to ever smaller transmitters, 3 to 4 grams for the latest generations and above all inexpensive, barely 100 dollars each, it could be envisaged to tag tens of thousands of species each year in order to build what ICARUS calls itself “the Internet of Animals”.

100,000 animals in the test campaign

To promote this network, the ICARUS project, led by Russian and German scientists, launched the international campaign “100,000 sentinel animals”. The objective: to tag 100,000 individuals of around 500 different species who will be able to transmit their data to a receiver module located on the ISS and capable of retransmitting them almost immediately to Earth. Based on past experience with ICARUS, the study suggests that wildlife agencies, non-governmental organizations, scientists and bird banders would carry out the majority of deployments of powered transmitters. solar.

Tagging so many animals won’t be easy, but the team hopes that with the lower cost of transmitters, traditional means of satellite tracking will be at a disadvantage. In fact, marking 50,000 animals per year would cost a maximum of 15 million euros, i.e. “a small fraction of the typical cost” other environmental satellite missions, according to the researchers.

Real-time biological monitoring

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