PLoS One. 2022 Oct 27;17(10):e0276388. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0276388. eCollection 2022.
Effective conservation management strategies require accurate information on the movement patterns and behaviour of wild animals. To collect these data, researchers are increasingly turning to remote sensing technology such as radio-frequency identification (RFID). RFID technology is a powerful tool that has been widely implemented in ecological research to identify and monitor unique individuals, but it bears a substantial price tag, restricting this technology to generously-funded disciplines and projects. To overcome this price hurdle, we provide detailed step-by-step instructions to source the components for, and construct portable RFID loggers in house, at a fraction of the cost (~5%) of commercial RFID units. Here, we assess the performance of these RFID loggers in the field and describe their application in two studies of Australian mammal species; monitoring nest-box use in the Northern quolls (Dasyurus hallucatus) and observing the foraging habits of quenda (Isoodon fusciventer) at feeding stations. The RFID loggers performed well, identifying quenda in >80% of visits, and facilitating the collection of individual-level behavioural data including common metrics such as emergence time, latency to approach, and foraging effort. While the technology itself is not novel, by lowering the cost per unit, our loggers enabled greater sample sizes, increasing statistical power from 0.09 to 0.75 in the quoll study. Further, we outline and provide solutions to the limitations of this design. Our RFID loggers proved an innovative method for collecting accurate behavioural and movement data. With their ability to successfully identify individuals, the RFID loggers described here can act as an alternative or complementary tool to camera traps. These RFID loggers can also be applied in a wide variety of projects which range from monitoring animal welfare or demographic traits to studies of anti-predator responses and animal personality, making them a valuable addition to the modern ecologists’ toolkit.