Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 68, Issue 2, pp 343–350 | Cite as

Measuring terrestrial movement behavior using passive integrated transponder (PIT) tags: effects of tag size on detection, movement, survival, and growth

  • Brittany H. OusterhoutEmail author
  • Raymond D. Semlitsch


Movement behaviors have broad ecological and evolutionary implications, affecting individual fitness, metapopulation dynamics, the distribution and abundance of species, as well as gene flow and thus adaptation and speciation. However, movement behaviors such as dispersal, station keeping, and ranging are poorly understood in many taxa due to the incompatibility of traditional tracking methods with long-term observations. This is particularly true for small-bodied life history stages and species. While the introduction of smaller passive integrated transponder (PIT) tags and the development of PIT telemetry have removed some barriers, the trade-offs between different tag sizes are unknown. Through a series of experiments, we tested for effects of PIT tag size on detection, movement, tag retention, growth, and survival of a juvenile amphibian. We found no effect of PIT tag size on initial movement distance, survival, or growth; and all individuals retained their tag for the course of the experiment. Detection and recapture rates, however, were increased with PIT tag size. The orientation of the tag relative to the vertical axis of the antenna also affected the size of the detection field, which was 15.78–43.90 % smaller when the antenna was moved perpendicular rather than parallel to the long axis of the tag. We conclude that PIT telemetry is a suitable technique for marking previously untraceable species or life history stages and may offer insight into the behaviors of these individuals. Investigations using multiple PIT tag sizes should include this in statistical analyses to account for tag size biased detection differences.


Ambystoma annulatum Detection depth Mark–recapture PIT telemetry Subterranean tracking 



We thank G. Connette, K. O’Donnell, M. Osbourn, M. Gibbons, and two anonymous reviewers for providing constructive comments on this manuscript. We also thank D. Drake, C. Farmer, J. Heemeyer, and A. Milo for help with surgeries, animal care, and tracking. This work was supported by National Science Foundation DEB-0943941 and Department of Defense SERDP RC-2155.

Ethical standards

This research complies with the current laws of the United States of America and was conducted under Missouri Department of Conservation collection permit 14922 and University of Missouri IACUC protocol 7403.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Brittany H. Ousterhout
    • 1
    Email author
  • Raymond D. Semlitsch
    • 1
  1. 1.Division of Biological SciencesUniversity of MissouriColumbiaUSA

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