Next Generation Animal Tracking - the concept

In 2013, a collaboration started between the University of Antwerp and Ghent University that centred around  a joint FWO project. This project initially focused on behavioural and evolutionary ecological aspects of senescence and parental care in lesser black-backed gulls. However, quickly it became clear that the application of GPS trackers -a collaboration with the University of Amsterdam- was not only an excellent tool to address behavioural ecological questions, but as birds were tracked throughout the whole annual cycle, we also obtained extremely detailed and fascinating data on foraging specialisation, individual niche variation, migratory strategies and insights into adaptations to global change. Subsequently, additional collaborations were initiated with researchers based at the Research Institute for Nature and Forest (INBO) and Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ). Given the increasing complexity and the huge amount of data we collect every day, the development of novel analytical approaches became more and more important. It became quickly evident that relevant analytical concepts may already exist even though they have been developed for very different purposes and in very different research areas. Furthermore, we realized that there are a number of renowned research teams that collect(ed) movement at similar scales as we have - just on different study species. Thus, when presenting and discussing our data at conferences (e.g. IOC Vancouver 2018) and seminars, it was clear that several groups are interested in similar topics, while encountering nearly identical challenges when analysing and interpreting their data.

We aim with this Scientific Research Network to establish a network that allows to simultaneously exchange ideas between partners that we have selected based on their expertise in at times distant topics such as geographical sciences, biostatistics or computer learning. Bringing together movement ecologists with researchers working on very different topics but with similar approaches seemed us to be a very fruitful and effective approach to synergize our search for knowledge gain. Having also partners that collect(ed) similar animal tracking data sets guarantees on the one hand that we can keep the focus on the urgent questions, and can develop relevant novel topics. On the other hand, we will also have the opportunity to immediately apply novel approaches to some of the most unique big movement data sets. Working with such a divergent team is an enormous opportunity. We therefore expect that we will jointly bring this field to a next level.

The proposed network aims to achieve this goal by stimulating collaborations in two steps: We will start off with a series of methodological workshops that allow the direct interactions of all participants.  We will work around pre-defined topics/problems, which should streamline the progress. Once we have identified the most promising approaches and the most important conceptual shortcomings, we will organize frequent exchanges via seminars, meetings, and in particular short research stays. There is a high commitment by all participating teams, to provide facilities at their institute, and to make this effort for knowledge exchange.