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Effects of antenna length and material on output power and detection of miniature radio transmitters

Beeman, John W., Bower, Neil, Juhnke, Steve, Dingmon, Laura, van den Tillaart, Mike, Thomas, Tom
Hydrobiologia 2007 v.582 no.1 pp. 221-229
animal behavior, dams (hydrology), fish, fisheries, hearing, laboratory techniques, radio, radio telemetry, radio transmitters, radio waves, wavelengths
The optimal antenna of transmitters used in small aquatic animals is often a compromise between efficient radio wave propagation and effects on animal behavior. Radio transmission efficiency generally increases with diameter and length of the conductor, but increased antenna length or weight can adversely affect animal behavior. We evaluated the effects of changing antenna length and material on the subsequent tag output power, reception, and detection of tagged fish. In a laboratory, we compared the relative signal strengths in water of 150 MHz transmitters over a range of antenna lengths (from 6 to 30 cm) and materials (one weighing about half of the other). The peak relative signal strengths were at 20 and 22 cm, which are approximately one wavelength underwater at the test frequency. The peak relative signal strengths at these lengths were approximately 50% greater than those of 30 cm antennas, a length commonly used in fisheries research. Few significant differences were present in distances for the operator to hear or the telemetry receiver to decode transmitters from a boat-mounted receiving system based on antenna length, but the percent of tagged fish detected passing a hydroelectric dam fitted with an array of receiving systems was significantly greater at the antenna length with peak output power in laboratory tests. This study indicates careful choice of antenna length and material of small transmitters can be used to reduce weight and possible antenna effects on animal behavior, to maximize tag output power and detection, or to balance these factors based on the needs of the application.