Science has discovered a new way to learn about wetlands. University of Missouri researchers recently fitted 20 mallard ducks with GPS trackers in order to closely track their migrations patterns as they make their journey from Canada into the U.S. Midwest and then back again.

The GPS tracking technology was able to follow their movements closely and to determine that the ducks rely heavily on public and private wetlands during their yearly migrations.

The GPS tracking devices attached to the ducks operated are solar powered and transmit the ducks’ locations every four hours so that researchers were able to monitor the ducks in real time.

Dylan Kesler, assistant professor of fisheries and wildlife for the College of Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources at MU, stresses that this is a signal of just how important these wetland areas are and the need for substantial efforts to maintain and protect these wetlands.

Kesler reveals in MU News that nearly 90 percent of Missouri’s wetland areas have been lost within the last century. Nationwide, we’ve experienced a 50 percent decrease in wetlands since the early 19th century.

“This loss,” says Kesler, “has affected migratory bird populations and migration timing and routes. Our research shows the importance of these wetland areas to maintain healthy populations of migratory birds and other species, especially in an age of budget cuts for government programs protecting these few remaining wetlands areas. If we don’t maintain these wildlife preservers it will put dozens, if not hundreds, of wildlife species in danger.”

One interesting detail revealed by the study was that ducks currently forage for food up to 90 miles away the areas where they roost as they migrate. This news tells researchers that there are improvements needed in the conservation areas currently used by these migrating ducks.

One of the recommendations being made, according to MU doctoral fellow William Beatty, is to increase diversity in wetlands so that the birds have better food choices to consider.

Another surprising discovery of the study is how heavily the ducks are relying on private conservation lands to meet their needs while migrating each year.

With continued advancements and applications in GPS technology (you can read about many of them here on LiveView GPS tracking blog) there are likely to be more studies that are similar in nature to this one.

Hopefully all of them will lead to exciting discoveries about nature and what needs to be done in order to help nature recover from some of the impact humans are having on the planet and the natural habitats of its creatures.

Solar flares may soon be predicted with the invention of an advanced computer simulation program.

For many years, scientists have been looking for a way to predict solar flares. Solar flares, which are a flash of bright light occurring over the Sun, can have a great impact even here on Earth. They affect different layers of the solar atmosphere, including the chromospheres, corona and photosphere. The radiation produced from solar flares can also disrupt satellite communications, which can have a direct impact on GPS navigation and GPS tracking.

By looking for ways to predict solar flares before they occur, scientists believe the impact will be lessened, particularly with these essential communications on Earth. Now, scientists from ETH Zurich believe they have the solution.

They have invented a computer simulation that may soon lead to the potential of predicting these solar storms before they occur, in order to better prepare for them.

Solar storms and solar flares can release more energy than is produced in a volcanic eruption, which is up to a million times as much energy. When the energy reaches Earth, it affects satellites, electrical plants, and radio traffic with all the excess energy coming from the sun’s surface. In 2003, there was a major solar flare that caused major power failure and communication failure in Sweden. In 2012, there was yet another large solar flare.

When the research team at ETH Zurich began building their model, they were actually looking at solar flares. They were looking at different events, such as earthquakes, avalanches, and the stock market. It turned out that the computer simulation was also great at predicting solar flares.

As the researchers began working, they realized there was a certain amount of time between two solar explosions and that the second solar flare was always stronger than the first. By using this theory, they were able to work with math calculations and models in order to create a computer simulation program that effectively estimates solar flares that might happen in the future.

Similar to predicting the stock market and earthquakes, the scientists looked at how solar flares interlock before reaching a particular value. This value is what must be reached before they explode. This is called criticality, and is what is used in the computer simulation.

A researcher from ETH Zurich said in a press release, “One example for this is a pile of sand being created by a trickle of sand grains. The pile continues to grow until, every now and then, an avalanche is triggered. Smaller landslides occur more frequently than larger ones. By organizing itself around a so called critical state, the pile maintains its original height when viewed over an extended period of time.”

Scientists have also pointed out that the predictions are currently just based on statistics, which is why they have not perfected the computer simulation yet for predicting solar flares.

It seems that bears in Yosemite are going after more than picnic baskets these days, leaving wildlife management personnel looking for a new tool to help the more than four million park visitors from bear activity throughout the year. This tool is a GPS tracking device.

How big is Yosemite’s bear problem?

As recently as 20 years ago, it was not at all uncommon for bears to damage cars in search of food. As many as 600 cars per year became targets of bears in search of grub.

The new solution they’ve found?

Thanks to advances in GPS tracking technology over the past several years, the park is going to outfit 20 of its bears with shiny new collars complete with GPS trackers to help rangers keep up with what’s going on with bear population.

Specifically, rangers are looking for information concerning where bears are, how often they wander into campground areas, and which bears are the primary offenders.

Park officials have tried tracking bears in the past with radio telemetry, but GPS provides a much more efficient, effective, and complete tracking option as it works in even remote locations.

The president of Yosemite Conservancy, the group that donated nearly $70,000 to make this project happen, was thrilled about the addition, saying, “It’s very exciting to be able to know in real time and track them through a GPS system as they move about the park. To know where they’re spending the spring, to know where they’re spending the fall, to know where they den.”

The benefit for the bears is that rangers can keep them away from the humans camping in the bark so that bears don’t grow dependent upon visitors to provide them with food. Bears need to continue getting food for themselves rather than simply raiding food goods that humans bring with them.

Efforts thus far to manage the bear population at Yosemite have proven quite successful with an overall reduction in damage to personal property by bears of nearly 95 percent since 1998.

The same technology being used in the GPS project for bear management has been used in the past to successfully reestablish and monitor bighorn sheep throughout the park too.

It’s not just the public park officials are hoping to protect, though. The National Park Service is also concerned about bears being hit by cars announcing that 24 had been hit by vehicles with two cubs being killed after being struck by a car.

While not all of the estimated 400 black bears living in Yosemite are being outfitted with these nifty new GPS tracking devices, there is great hope that the information gleaned from the ones that are will make it worth the price paid for these trackers. And we’re only touching the tip of the iceberg when it comes to things we can accomplish with the power tool GPS tracking offers.

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