Imagine being able to track the smallest animals from anywhere on the globe and model their movements. ICARUS, short for the International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space, is beginning to make such an idea a reality by merging tag technology with the International Space Station’s satellites. ICARUS is a global effort, with supporters from space agencies and research institutions all over the world, appearing to formally come together in a partnership in 2020. ICARUS is continuing the trend in environmental monitoring tags to make tiny transmitters no bigger than a fingernail that can be attached to virtually any species larger than the transmitter. The tags transmit data on the physiology of the tagged species, such as body temperature, speed, location, and surrounding environment to antennae on the International Space Station (which was installed by Russian astronauts in 2018). The data would then be transmitted to a ground server, with information being sent over to the relevant team of researchers with an interest in the species being tracked. Data collected here is incredibly useful for modelling the activity of individual species, changes in species range, as well as overall health. Someday, ICARUS could be used for disaster prediction since some animals, like cows and goats, seem to be able to innately sense when events like earthquakes are going to happen and respond by moving to a covered area. ICARUS is still in its nascent stages, and in order for it to be truly effective, a large number of species would need to be tagged individually. While ICARUS may be an innovative way to track species, it still has not replaced the labour-intensive tagging processes on which data collection depends. Some species, especially in fragile and remote ecosystems, may actually experience harm by coming into close contact with humans, so the risk of tagging animals needs to be carefully considered. Additionally, ICARUS has future plans to make the data collected on all species available to the public via a mobile app so that citizen scientists across the world could keep tabs on their favourites. While well-intentioned, some animals, especially those that are actively poached, benefit from anonymity, so sensitive data about endangered or threatened species would still need to be closely guarded in order to not put some species at further risk of being killed.


Ecological Modelling, Ecological Monitoring, Internet of Things, Monitoring, Regulation