It is not too difficult to predict the future of biologging science. Curious minds will produce new hypotheses, which will drive the development of increasingly sophisticated technology. Continued miniaturization of tags will require new battery technologies and increased memory capacity, and the accumulation of large, complex datasets will foster the development of powerful analytical techniques, similar to those employed in bioinformatics and computational biology (Davis 2008
). We are confident that these challenges will be met as they arise—if not by biologging engineers, then by the large industries that cater for expanding global markets of communication and entertainment products. But these technological aspects aside, how could the field advance conceptually? We offer a few ideas below.
While this conference encouraged the participation of terrestrial biologists, there was nevertheless a strong bias towards marine studies (see table S1 in the electronic supplementary material). This is not surprising, given the field's historical roots: it was marine biologists, after all, who pioneered many biologging technologies in their attempts to collect data from submerged study subjects. But the field has moved on since, and terrestrial ecologists have started embracing opportunities of collecting data remotely for species that are difficult, or impossible, to study with conventional observation techniques (Cooke et al. 2004
). In fact, the challenges presented by marine and terrestrial systems are very similar, and researchers in both fields have followed similar paths in developing efficient data-collection and analysis technologies. We encourage both communities to be more proactive in exchanging expertise, and believe that the forthcoming conference (to be hosted by CSIRO in Tasmania, Australia) could be an excellent starting point for future collaborations.
There is no doubt that biologging can provide precious insights into otherwise largely inaccessible biological systems, but we think it is at its best when integrated carefully into a holistic research programme that uses a suite of other methodologies. While this may be easier to achieve in most terrestrial studies, excellent recent examples have come from marine biology, where studies have used biologging technology to complement results from DNA analysis (Jorgensen et al. p. 38; Reeb et al. p. 62) or stable-isotope profiling (Henry-III et al. p. 33; Madigan et al. p. 47; Suryan et al. p. 72).
Biologging projects are often expensive and logistically challenging, limiting the number of tags that can be deployed by any given project. As illustrated by this conference, one of the common findings of biologging studies is that there is a staggering amount of variation—between animals, seasons and populations. This presents opportunities as well as challenges. The constraint of small sample sizes can be overcome elegantly by organizing large collaborative projects (§2c
; see table S3 in the electronic supplementary material), but research efficiency can be enhanced further by exploring two main avenues. First, tagged subjects could be used for experimental work, either in dedicated projects or opportunistically after observational data have been collected for the undisturbed system. While a sample size of 6–12 subjects is small for a study that relies entirely on interpreting correlational evidence, it will often be sufficient for a well-planned experiment. The success of such work (§2c
) illustrates how researchers can maximize the biological insight gained per tag deployed in the field. Second, existing datasets could be used for robust meta-analytical work. Taken together, small-scale projects have deployed thousands of tags over the last few decades, across species and continents, creating a ‘data gold mine’ that has remained largely untapped. Notwithstanding first studies (e.g. Sims et al. 2008
) and some excellent attempts to facilitate data sharing (e.g. with the new data repository ‘Movebank’; see table S3 in the electronic supplementary material), we believe that the potential of meta-analyses, of either published results or collated original datasets, is currently underexploited by the biologging community.
We wish to conclude by encouraging those biologists, who have not yet used biologging in their studies, to explore the rich tool kit that is now available, as it may help answer some of their most pressing research questions.