Movement Ecology: The Role GPS Tracking Plays

9 Apr 2019

Movement ecology is a discipline that seeks to understand the relationships between organisms and their surroundings through gaining insights about their natural movements. This science includes the movements of animals, plants and microorganisms. The main goal of movement ecology is comprehending how movement relates to survival, but this field of science is still very new.

The earliest applications of this science were used to figure out where animals were going in geographical areas. Scientists relied on technologies like VHF radio to track animals, but data was challenging to collect and analyze. The majority of collected data was used to determine general estimated habitat areas and ranges.

Technological advancements in GPS tracking systems have greatly impacted and improved this field of science. Today, movement ecologists can tag specific animals and collect information more frequently, accurately and efficiently. GPS trackers collect information about an animal’s location, depth, acceleration and environment. With greater access to this type of information, movement ecologists have been able to discern answers about a wider range of animal behavior than ever before.

Specialists are now able to determine why animals will travel to specific locations, how they are relating to their environment and how individual animal responses vary. Fascinating discoveries are being made frequently utilizing the GPS tagging of animals. One of the most infamous and mysterious cases of GPS tracking occurred with an enormous nine-foot long Great White Shark. The shark, named Alpha by researchers, was tagged back in 2003. The researchers tracked the animal, along with multiple other sharks, until something strange occurred.

Four months after Alpha was tagged, a tourist found the GPS tracker washed up on the beach. Researchers quickly retrieved the tag and extracted the information on the device. Scientists were astonished when they learned that the GPS tag showed a rapid plunge into the depths of the ocean. Additionally, the tag noted a significant temperature increase. The GPS tag remained at 78 degrees Fahrenheit for about eight days.

Researchers spent ten years attempting to determine what exactly happened to the massive shark, and the incident is still shrouded in mystery. Researchers agree that some bigger ocean predator must have eaten the shark, and marine biologists can only assume that a larger Great White shark was the culprit.

This interesting event is only one of the more mysterious cases of animal movement that GPS movement ecology has revealed. As more creatures are tagged and studied, researchers will gain deeper insights into the inner-workings of our planet.


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