Animal lifestyle affects acceptable mass limits for attached tags

Rory P Wilson, Kayleigh A Rose, Richard Gunner, Mark D Holton, Nikki J Marks, Nigel C Bennett, Stephen H Bell, Joshua P Twining, Jamie Hesketh, Carlos M Duarte, Neil Bezodis, Milos Jezek, Michael Painter, Vaclav Silovsky, Margaret C Crofoot, Roi Harel, John P Y Arnould, Blake M Allan, Desley A Whisson, Abdulaziz AlagailiD Michael Scantlebury

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Animal-attached devices have transformed our understanding of vertebrate ecology. To minimize any associated harm, researchers have long advocated that tag masses should not exceed 3% of carrier body mass. However, this ignores tag forces resulting from animal movement. Using data from collar-attached accelerometers on 10 diverse free-ranging terrestrial species from koalas to cheetahs, we detail a tag-based acceleration method to clarify acceptable tag mass limits. We quantify animal athleticism in terms of fractions of animal movement time devoted to different collar-recorded accelerations and convert those accelerations to forces (acceleration × tag mass) to allow derivation of any defined force limits for specified fractions of any animal's active time. Specifying that tags should exert forces that are less than 3% of the gravitational force exerted on the animal's body for 95% of the time led to corrected tag masses that should constitute between 1.6% and 2.98% of carrier mass, depending on athleticism. Strikingly, in four carnivore species encompassing two orders of magnitude in mass ( 2-200 kg), forces exerted by '3%' tags were equivalent to 4-19% of carrier body mass during moving, with a maximum of 54% in a hunting cheetah. This fundamentally changes how acceptable tag mass limits should be determined by ethics bodies, irrespective of the force and time limits specified.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20212005
JournalProceedings of The Royal Society B Biological Sciences
Issue number1961
Publication statusPublished - 27 Oct 2021


  • detriment
  • tag mass
  • collar design
  • guidelines
  • ethics


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