GPS Tracking Data Reveals Animals Migrate Across Oceans, Continents

28 Dec 2017

It might surprise you to learn that many species of animal have breathtaking migration routes. They travel over borders with many visiting places that are many hundreds or even thousands of miles away.

The animated video illustrates the migration routes for around 150 species. More than 11,000 researchers throughout the world have added their GPS tracking data to the project. The pink lines combine approximately 8,000 tracks collected over a 10-year time span. These follow the movements of the tracked animals and cover around 310 miles in one direction for 45 days minimum. Lines extend from Canada to the United States, from Africa to Europe and vice versa.


GPS tracking devices have been long used by scientists to find out how animals migrate across continents and oceans. They’re also employed to study how animals move within their own local regions. In the past, scientists achieved this through the use of radio transmitters or by ‘banding’ a bird’s leg. Today’s tags and trackers are far more sophisticated than those of the past. They employ GPS and satellites to track data down to the last second. Researchers use this information in a variety of ways. It can, for example, enable us to learn more about habitat fragmentation, how animals hunt and how they respond to climate change.


The globe uses data compiled by Argos Doppler, electronic tags that relay signals to polar-orbiting satellites and GPS. The data is publicly available on Movebank, The Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, free, online animal-tracking database.


The majority of the 150 species in the animation are birds. For instance, at approximately 00:57 in the animation, there’s a large migration of animals from Europe to Africa. The animals in question are white storks who prefer to spend the winter in a warm climate.


Migration is almost universal in the animal kingdom. They’re driven by one simple fact. Earth’s resources fluctuate. Food may be freely available in the warmer months. However, only for a short time. Migration patterns vary and are complex. GPS tracking data is finally giving us an insight into the incredible journeys animals make in order to survive. Take a look at the video above for more details.



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