University of Oulu

Mühlbauer, L. K., Zavattoni, G., Virtanen, R., Grube, M., Weber, B., & Clark, A. T. (2023). Arduinos in the wild: A novel, low-cost sensor network for high-resolution microclimate monitoring in remote ecosystems. Ecological Solutions and Evidence, 4, e12255.

Arduinos in the wild : a novel, low-cost sensor network for high-resolution microclimate monitoring in remote ecosystems

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Author: Mühlbauer, Lina K.1; Zavattoni, Giorgio2; Virtanen, Risto2;
Organizations: 1Institute of Biology, University of Graz, Graz, Austria
2Ecology and Genetics, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 6.3 MB)
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Language: English
Published: John Wiley & Sons, 2023
Publish Date: 2023-09-08


1. The importance of microclimate conditions is becoming increasingly recognised in ecological research, especially as they can differ widely from macro- and mesoclimate. Effective measurement of microclimate variability in heterogeneous field conditions requires measurements from a large number of sensors, ideally sampling across both small and large scales, which necessitates the development of cost-effective sensor networks.

2. Here, we develop an environmental microcontroller (EMU) sensor network for measuring soil moisture and temperature with high spatiotemporal coverage. The system can easily be implemented in larger or smaller setups, though our study consisted of 40 plots distributed across 4 sites in northern Lapland. Using 40 EMUs, each equipped with 10 soil temperature and 10 soil moisture sensors, we collected roughly 3.5 million unique soil temperature and moisture records over the course of about 2 months. We then compared these measurements to those from commercial temperature sensors (iButtons) and TDR soil moisture probes.

3. We show that our sensor network is able to successfully characterise microclimate variation at the site, plot and within-plot scales with high accuracy and good reliability. Moreover, even including development costs, the total price per EMU unit was less than €100, yielding a much cheaper and higher resolution system than is currently available from commercial producers. For both temperature and soil moisture, we found a strong relationship between the sensor network measurement and those obtained from commercial systems. Roughly 10% of the overall spatial variation in temperature and moisture occurred within plots—that is. over the scale of 25–50 cm.

4. Our results show that accurate measurements of microclimate soil temperature and soil moisture can be obtained using low-cost sensor networks. We also show that microclimate variability at small scales can make up a considerable fraction of total environmental variability. To this end, we discuss some of the difficulties encountered during the development process and suggest possible improvements for further studies. While the sensor network described here can be applied without any modifications for quantifying topsoil conditions, we note that with minor changes to our code and hardware, the system can be customised for other kinds of measurements.

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Series: Ecological solutions and evidence
ISSN: 2688-8319
ISSN-E: 2688-8319
ISSN-L: 2688-8319
Volume: 4
Issue: 3
Article number: e12255
DOI: 10.1002/2688-8319.12255
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 1181 Ecology, evolutionary biology
1172 Environmental sciences
Funding: This project was supported by University of Oulu (Arctic Interactions (ArcI) grant to A.T.C. and R.V.) and by the University of Graz. Kilpisjärvi Biological Station provided lodging and laboratory facilities during field work. The authors acknowledge support from the University of Graz.
Copyright information: © 2023 The Authors. Ecological Solutions and Evidence published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of British Ecological Society. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.