Connecting animal telemetry and spatial conservation:
A CEED Workshop (University of Queensland, February 2015)
The use of animal-borne telemetric devices is a powerful tool for ecologists and wildlife managers. Since the first devices were deployed back in the 1950s (see the story on Laika on page 16) advances in technology and reductions in price have led to a proliferation of telemetry technology for animal studies.
In the Australasian region alone, tens of thousands of animals have had their movements tracked (Campbell et al, 2015). This body of work has greatly enhanced our understanding of the habitat requirements of many species, particularly for migratory, wide-ranging and elusive animals.
“Although many studies recognise conservation and management as a potential application of telemetry data, methods to incorporate them into management decisions remain largely undeveloped. ”
Generating management plans for highly mobile species can be highly challenging. Many of these species experience multiple threats throughout their life cycle, often operating across large spatial scales that may span nations or regions. On top of this, movements of individuals have a high level of plasticity. This means that in order to capture species-level movements, a large number of tagged individuals will be required.
Recently, a suite of online data repositories have been established that are dedicated to hosting animal tracks (Dwyer et al, 2015) (and see the story on ‘animal tracks in the bank’ on page 16). This gives us an opportunity to synthesise hundreds of thousands of animal telemetry datasets and extend their value beyond their initial study objectives towards goals of informing conservation and management.
Although many studies recognise conservation and management as a potential application of telemetry data, methods to incorporate them into management decisions remain largely undeveloped. CEED recently hosted a workshop to tackle this challenge. The workshop’s aim was to develop a framework that can be applied to telemetry data collected from terrestrial, freshwater and marine species with policy-relevant case studies.
CEED and researchers at the School of Biological Sciences (University of Queensland) have recently developed methods that could serve to integrate telemetry data into spatial conservation prioritization. For example, ‘Marxan with Zones’ can prioritise areas that are frequently traversed by GPS-tagged cassowary (see Campbell et al, 2012 and Decision Point #60, p12,13). Additionally, ‘Marxan with Connectivity’ was developed to incorporate asymmetric connectivity representations into a spatial planning analysis (see Decision Point #44, p8,9), from non-directional turtle migration tracks in the Coral Triangle.
While these studies highlighted the potential for telemetry data being used within a spatial prioritisation framework, both studies fell short of generating a framework which could be directly applied to get the most out of telemetry data for conservation.
Our workshop brought together key experts in animal telemetry, movement ecology, spatial-conservation science and policy development from across Australia and around the world. With much deliberation and considerable enthusiasm, we crafted ideas for two (what we hope will be seminal) papers: Why has telemetry failed conservation? and How can telemetry fix conservation? These papers will be out soon; watch this space.
Roquet F, GD Williams, M Hindell, R Harcourt, CR McMahon, JB Charrassin, G Reverdin, L Boehme, P Lovell & M Fedak (2014). A Southern Indian Ocean database of hydrographic profiles obtained with instrumented elephant seals. Nature Scientific Data, 1, 140028.
Dwyer RG, Brooking C, Brimblecombe W, Campbell HA, Hunter J, Watts M, Franklin CE. An open Web-based system for the analysis and sharing of animal tracking data. Animal Biotelemetry 2015; 3 (1)
Campbell HA, Beyer HL, Dennis TE, Dwyer RG, Forester JD, Fukuda Y, Lynch C, Hindell MA, Menke N, Morales JM, Richardson C, Rodgers E, Taylor G, Watts ME, Westcott DA (2015). Finding our way: On the sharing and reuse of animal telemetry data in Australasia. Science for the Total Environment.
Campbell HA, RG Dwyer, S Fitzgibbons, CJ Klein et al, (2012). Prioritising the protection of habitat utilised by southern cassowaries Casuarius casuarius johnsonii. Endangered Species Research 17:53-61.