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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 February 2008, 15:02 GMT
Hi-tech bird tracker breakthrough
Manx shearwater
Around half the world's manx shearwaters live off Pembrokeshire
New technology which can monitor how animals respond to change in their environment has been developed on an island off the Pembrokeshire Coast.

A system of wireless sensors and GPS tracking is giving researchers a better understanding of the behaviour of manx shearwaters on Skomer Nature Reserve.

Scientists at Microsoft Research say it can be adapted to study animals and ecosystems around the world.

It could show how animals react to changes in climate or pollution levels.

Microsoft has been working with the University of Oxford and Freie Universitat, Berlin, on the project.

Last summer researchers installed wireless sensor networks in burrows on the island used by the seabirds and fixed tiny GPS tracking devices to them.

Data was gathered electronically and beamed back to the mainland, where new software enabled researchers to view it at the click of a computer mouse.

Manx shearwater being tagged
Scientists said the aim was to be as unobtrusive as possible

Robin Freeman, one of the scientists leading the project, said previous studies were hugely labour intensive and involved researchers physically gathering information.

He said the manx shearwater was a nocturnal species that could travel long distances for food that traditionally made field study difficult.

"The importance of this system is its ability to monitor animals autonomously over greater distances and more frequently and consistently that previously possible," he added.

He said in the case of the manx shearwater it allowed scientists to develop a better understanding of their feeding and breeding grounds that would bolster conservation efforts.

Once they had established a pattern of behaviour then the system could also help identify the effect changes in climate, pollution, or human activity had on the birds and act as "an early warning system", he said.

"At Skomer we wanted to trial and pilot the technology to make sure it did not impact on them (the birds)."

He said the team was now investigating how the technology could be used in a range of different sensitive ecosystems around the world.

"We are talking to a number of parties about using the technology in a number of different environments."

SEE ALSO
Campaign to protect Skomer coast
30 Aug 07 |  South West Wales
Bird night attacks may be unique
05 Nov 07 |  Highlands and Islands

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