Using technology to calculate the movement of large land animals


By tracking the movements of large wild animals, researchers developed the “enerscape” software – protecting species and helping humans avoid contact with animals.

Large land animals impact the ecology and biodiversity of the land regions in which they live and navigate. If these routes, such as stopping places for cattle, horses, sheep, and wolves or bears overlap with those for people, this contact between humans and animals could easily lead to conflict.

Therefore, predicting animal movement patterns is important to protect agriculture and forestry, and to protect the safety of human travelers as well as the safety of human infrastructure.

Necessary for the protection of nature and the landscape

An international team led by the German Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research, Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Aarhus University and Oxford University has developed “enerscape”, a new software for creating animal cards easily and inexpensively.

Traditional maps of animal movements generally based on long-term records of so-called telemetry data from individuals equipped with radio transmitters. This type of mapping is often long and expensive, and the lack of radio contact in some areas often results in a lack of data collection.

However, these new maps made by enerscape are simpler than measurements obtained using radio transmitters – moreover, they can be used where conventional methods fail.

Tested in the Abruzzo region of Italy, the software tracks the movements of the endangered and protected Marsican brown bear in the region of the Sirente Velino regional park. By recording the movements of bears in the 50,000 hectare park, the maps can protect endangered species as well as the people who live there and sensitive flora.

Dr Emilio Berti, first author of the study, said: “What is special is that the software requires very little data as a basis. The energy that an animal must expend to travel a certain distance is calculated based on that animal’s weight and its general movement behavior. This energy expenditure is then integrated into the topographical information of an area.

“From this information, we can then create ‘energy landscape maps’ for individuals as well as groups of animals. Our maps are calculated rather than measured and therefore represent a cost effective alternative to traditional maps.

“In special applications, such as conditions in the Italian national park, our method makes the creation of motion model maps really possible.”

Bears take routes that require the least energy expenditure

Published in the journal Methods in ecology and evolution, the researchers found that bears choose paths that require less energy expenditure by using enerscape.

These paths, which often pass through colonies, can often lead to the death of animals if bears come into contact with people. This software can help to avoid this encounter. The software further predicts that bears keen to save energy will tend to stay in valleys, away from human settlements. He also identifies areas of conflict and bear protection, with his maps verifying whether landscape features are still sufficiently connected to allow animals to move around the area sufficiently.

Enerscape is based on the widely used “R” programming language, with its modular structure, it can process animal movements and topographic data from a wide variety of ecosystem types.

Emphasizing the special nature of the energy landscape, Professor Fritz Vollrath of the Department of Zoology, University of Oxford and lead author of the study said: “This allows researchers and wildlife managers to adapt the software to suit. a wide variety of landscapes and animals.

“This means that the number of animal movement maps in landscapes will increase in a short time. With much more mapping data, the understanding of the behavioral ecology of a species in a certain habitat will also change fundamentally.

“This will primarily benefit nature conservation and, in particular, rewilding measures – the reintroduction of wild animals.”

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