Tracking animals is a great way to learn the details about their lives, collecting important data for addressing scientific and conservation questions. I use a variety of tracking technologies in my research, often pushing the envelope of what is possible and innovating to collect better data and address new questions. For example, we created an Automated Radio Telemetry Systemin Panama, made motion-sensitive GPS devices for anteaters and fishers, recorded the first ever EEG records of sleep in a wild animal, tracked seeds moved around by rodents, and used tiny transmitters to discover the pollination potential of orchid bees. I am also working with ICARUS, an international team of scientists to use a new antenna on the International Space Station to be able to globally track small animals.
For some studies we get live data updated daily through satellite or SMS messages. You can check out the latest animal movements from today here.
While the field work is fun, the data side is also critical, and where many exciting discoveries can be made. I am Co-PI on the animal tracking database Movebank, which serves as a data archive and tool for analyses and visualizations. Movebank contains millions of records uploaded or streamed live by hundreds of scientists, who can share their data with the public, or only with key collaborators and agencies. Movebank also has links to remote sensing data through the EnvData tool, allowing scientists to quantify the environmental conditions (e.g. weather, habitat type) their animals were moving through.
In May of 2014 I organized a Research Symposium on Animal Movement and the Environment in Raleigh, NC. Videos of most of the presentations and statistical tutorials are available on the website.
In 2015 I wrote an article for science about “Terrestrial animal tracking as an eye on life and planet“. The last few years have shown exponential improvement in tracking technology, leading to smaller tracking devices that can return millions of movement steps for ever-smaller animals. Finally, we have a tool that returns high-resolution data that reveal the detailed facets of animal movement and its many implications for biodiversity, animal ecology, behavior, and ecosystem function. You can download the full article from a link on my publication page.
Below are two of my favorite tracking data visualizations from Movebank.