By Thomas Brooks, Head of Science at IUCN.
The diversity of movements made by animals around the world, from foraging patterns over the course of the day to seasonal migrations between the hemispheres, has long fascinated ecologists.
With growing human impacts around the world, it seems that species dependent on lengthy movements face a disproportionately high extinction risk. Understanding why this might be, and what can be done about it, must draw from the emerging discipline of movement ecology.
Fortunately, technological advances have seen an explosion of the field over the last few years. Traditional approaches such as mark-recapture (for example through ringing/banding), radio-telemetry, and observations at migratory bottlenecks are now being supplemented by methods harnessing camera traps, remote data-loggers, genetic markers, stable isotopes, drones, and satellite tracking.
These open exciting possibilities for guiding the assessment of extinction risk for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, measuring changing ecological processes for the Red List of Ecosystems and identification and delineation of Key Biodiversity Areas.
Against this backdrop of a rapidly growing discipline, I was delighted to have the chance to give a plenary talk to the AniMove summer school at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology (MPG) in Radolfzell, Germany.
The institute has a long and distinguished history in bird ecology and in animal movement science more generally. For example, the institute collaborates with the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and University of Konstanz in maintaining the MoveBank system through which researchers maintain and share the huge volumes of data delivered by new techniques for studying animal movement; and is one of the pioneers of ICARUS, a satellite system for tracking small animals from space.
AniMove is a ground-breaking capacity-building contribution, developed jointly by MPG, the Department of Remote Sensing – DLR-Earth Observation Center, the Zoological Society of London, Global Change Ecology program and others.
Around 30 students from around the world, spent two weeks in Radolfzell studying animal movement through a series of lectures and plenaries, as well as analyzing their own data on movements of animals as diverse as Campbell Albatross in the Sub-Antarctic, carnivores in the Karoo, deer in Bavaria, Eleanora’s Falcon in Greece, Great Tits in Radolfzell, Hihi (Stitchbirds) in New Zealand, Saiga in Kazakhstan, and Wild Boar in Belgium.
Over the coming years there are plans to offer the course in Africa, North America, and South Asia — great opportunities for students to learn about cutting-edge movement ecology and the important insights which it offers for conservation.