The Evolution of Microwave Telemetry's Bird-Borne Satellite PTTs
|Early MTI PTTs and digital decoders
Gaining insight and understanding into the species that compose Aves — the world’s most diverse tetrapod taxon — has always provided numerous challenges, but unlimited opportunity for researchers studying the fascinating and wide-ranging creatures. We love challenges too.
Before 1991 the capability to remotely track an avian species via satellite existed, but was limited to the largest, and primarily non-migratory species, like ostriches. However, in 1991 the field was revolutionized when Microwave Telemetry introduced the world’s first satellite-linked PTT under 100g, instantly providing the potential to study 150 never-before-tracked species (see figure below). Despite this early success, we knew that our mission was just getting started.
|Paul Howey tags a bird with a battery-powered PTT
The next 15 years delivered rapid technological advancements, many of which we quickly incorporated into our designs for newer, lighter, and more functional PTTs —
GPS was added, implantable PTTs and our line of fish tracking transmitters were developed and released to the world. For birds, the biggest leap in species coverage was provided by the introduction of our 9.5g Solar Argos PTT which added more than 1000 species to a researcher’s index of possibility.
Discovery was happening rapidly at this point, and as our family of PTTs grew, so did the number of users. By 2006, Microwave Telemetry shipped units to projects in over 60 countries, making our reach and product as global as the migratory animals for which they were designed. The birds and their migrations erased and ignored boundaries and the technology gave humans the tool to do the same, as countries worked collaboratively to protect migrating species. The Swainson’s Hawk being a notable example, and an unquestionable testament to the potential. When innovation spurs collaboration, it can also save a species from extinction.
|Battery Powered 95g PTT, Solar 9.5g PTT, Solar 5g PTT, and Solar 2g PTT
After almost twenty years in existence, Microwave Telemetry continued pushing the boundaries and designed a revolutionary miniaturized PTT, which further changed the game by adding potential in the form of >500 new trackable species.
The new design, and proof of concept it represented, sparked our curiosity once again and initiated an influx of requests for an even smaller Argos PTT. We understand that by decreasing size of a device, conservation is exponentially increased, so we forged ahead, and last year (2017) introduced our smallest Argos device at roughly 2g. The MTI avian satellite tracking landscape now offers solutions for almost 3500 species, more than any other in its field, but with roughly 6500 species still unaccounted for, we continue to innovate for the future. The story continues.
Mean body mass (g) for all of the world’s (recorded and reported) species of birds (n=8124) vs. frequency. Masses were log2 transformed for visual clarity, and significant MTI designs and corresponding release years are noted in the timeline under header. Bird icons depict representable species from each size class and are scaled to each other.
click to enlarge
8124 avian masses taken from:
Dunning, Jr., J. (2008). CRC Handbook of Avian Body Masses. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Analysis completed in R:
R Core Team. (2013). R: A language and environment for statistical computing. Version 2.15.3. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna, Austria.
Please cite as:
Microwave Telemetry, Inc. (2018). The Evolution of Microwave Telemetry's Bird-Borne Satellite PTTs. www.microwavetelemetry.com/evolution_of_the_ptt