Measuring environmental variables at appropriate temporal and spatial scales remains a significant challenge in ecological research. New developments in wireless sensors and sensor networks will free ecologists from a wired world and revolutionize our ability to study ecological systems at relevant scales. Sensor networks can, however, also analyze and manipulate the data they collect, which moves data processing from the end user to the sensor network itself. Such embedded processing will allow sensor networks to perform data analysis procedures, identify outlier data, alter sampling regimes, and ultimately control experimental infrastructure. We illustrate this capability using a wireless sensor network, the Sensor Web, in a study of microclimate variation under Chihuahuan Desert shrubs. Using Sensor Web data we developed simple analytical protocols for assessing data quality "on-the-fly" that can be programmed into sensor networks. The ecological community can influence the development of environmental sensor networks by working across disciplines to infuse new ideas into sensor network development.