North Carolina: Scientists are adopting a big data approach that combines GPS tracking data with satellite weather and terrain information to understand animal movement. They have used the new Environmental-Data Automated Track Annotation (Env-DATA) system for handling millions of data points and linking animal tracks with environmental data.
Researchers used Env-DATA to analyse the flight paths of the Galapagos Albatross. In addition to GPS tracking of individual birds, scientists collected satellite data on weather patterns and glowing chlorophyll concentrations in the ocean associated with food sources, captured in a YouTube video. Scientists learned that the birds’ chosen paths took them to preferred areas on the Peruvian coast where they could forage. The albatrosses took a clockwise route that allowed them to take advantage of tailwinds on much of the long journey. Env-DATA allows scientists to work with several layers of information. “This is a powerful tool for understanding how weather and land forms affect migration patterns. Ultimately it will help us answer global questions about how changes to our planet affect animal populations and movement,” co-founder Dr. Roland Kays, a zoologist with North Carolina State University and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. The Env-DATA team was led by Dr. Gil Bohrer from Ohio State University and includes researchers from the the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany, the U.S. Geological Survey in Alaska, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Lafayette College and the University of Konstanz in Germany