A comparison of common behavioral observation software applications and recommendations for use

Annemarie van der Marel, Claire L. O'Connell, Sanjay Prasher, Chelsea Carminito, Xavier Francis, Elizabeth A. Hobson

In the field of animal behavior and behavioral ecology, many standardized methods to observe animal behavior were established approximately 50 years ago. While the protocols are similar, behavioral researchers can take advantage of technological advancements to enter observations directly onto a handheld computer (phone, tablet, etc.), saving precious time. However, we now have the choice between many different platforms for recording behavioral observations. Our challenge is choosing the most appropriate platform that fits a particular study question, research design, budget, and desired amount of preparatory time. Here, we review six software applications for handheld computers that are available for real-time entry of behavioral observations: Animal Behaviour Pro, Animal Observer, BORIS, CyberTracker, Prim8, and ZooMonitor. We discuss the preliminary decisions that have to be made about the study design and we assess the six applications by reviewing 1) which behavioral sampling methods are possible per platform, 2) the setup and data collection routines, 3) the data output format, and 4) how to customize certain platforms so they will work more effectively for particular study aims or sampling methods. Our goal is to help researchers make calculated decisions about what behavioral observation platform is best for their study system and question.

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