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Evaluating the Effects of Telemetry Transmitter Attachment Techniques on Waterfowl: A Review and Recommendations

Kevin P. Kenow, Carl E. Korschgen, U.S. Geological Survey, Biological Resources Division, Upper Mississippi Science Center, P.O. Box 818, La Crosse, WI 54602 USA, F. Joshua Dein, U.S. Geological Survey, Biological Resources Division, National Wildlife Health Center, 6006 Schroeder Road, Madison, WI 53711 USA, Annette P. Gendron-Fitzpatrick, Research Animal Resources Center, University of Wisconsin, 2115 Observatory Drive, Madison, WI 53792 USA, and Eric F. Zuelke, U.S. Geological Survey, Biological Resources Division, Upper Mississippi Science Center, P.O. Box 818, La Crosse, WI 54602 USA

Radiotelemetry has been employed more intensively to study the ecology of waterfowl than perhaps any other group of birds. A host of attachment techniques, including body and wing harness, suture, glue, subcutaneous anchor, neck collar, nasal saddle, surgical implant, and tail mounts, have been used with more than 20 species of ducks, geese, and swans. Biologists have long acknowledged deleterious effects of transmitter attachments on the behavior, flight dynamics, and survival of study animals. Yet many researchers have failed to fully assess these impacts as they relate to the objectives of study. Attachment techniques that apparently have been used successfully with one species may not necessarily be tolerated by another. Some species have even exhibited variation in tolerance to transmitter attachments both seasonally and between sexes.

Here we provide a comprehensive summary of methods used to assess impacts of transmitter attachment techniques from which we develop guidelines for the conduct of evaluations. We recommend that species-specific evaluations and experimental comparisons be conducted with available attachment techniques before they are applied in field studies. Evaluations should include an assessment of physiological reaction to the transmitter and behavior of radio-marked individuals compared to controls in captive and field experiments. Parameters of interest include histological reactions; growth; effects on energy expenditure; and changes in patterns of behavior, rates of movement, survival, and reproductive capabilities.

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