Center for Animal Marking
It is impossible to imagine ornithology without the figure of the bird ringer. However, the classical approach of collecting “broad” data (few data points from many individuals) gathered through bird ringing is becoming obsolete and is being replaced by a “detailed" data approach (many data points from few individuals). Ideally both approaches should be combined and not compete against each other.
Given that permits and funds are available, it is now easy to collect large amounts of animal movement data without even leaving one's desk. Modern GPS loggers and comfortable software tools enable us to produce impressive maps and animations within seconds. Many of those studies, however, are at risk of staying at this descriptive level. Weather, remote sensing data, as well as some additional information collected by the loggers themselves make analyses that go far beyond simple localization possible. In the near future, however, no tag - and especially no tag that can be carried by a bird, will be able to collect the same variety of environmental information and observations about the bird itself as a sharp-sensed human can. Human observers are also necessary when it comes to identifying the cause of death and recovering loggers – sometimes in very remote places. Last but not least, it is a good idea to use expensive logger technologies in populations with good basal knowledge about population dynamics, expected mortality and return rates, etc. When it comes to understanding the consequences of migration strategies, it is necessary to get detailed information about fitness and mortality. If complete “nobodies” from black box populations are tracked, the interpretation the of the observation is much more difficult, if not impossible. Finally, access to nests and trapping options need to be available if loggers should be attached to wild birds. All these activities and observations, that ideally enhance the simple attachment of a logger to a bird, require close cooperation between professionals and amateurs. In ornithology, this traditional, almost unique and fruitful liaison between scientists and bird ringers or bird observers already exists. It is our strong commitment to make the maximum use of these structures, also in the new age of electronic marking devices.
In a large study which links life history traits and migration strategies of White Storks, we aim to bring together tracking technology, bird ringing and the involvement of the general public to create a broad and multi-facetted database. This bears some challenges in communication and data archiving. The classical database Movebank was extended by the Animal Tracker app for mobile devices and a metadata archive. In order to collect information from dead animals and to retrieve loggers, a task force and a network of external supporters had to be built up. The developed structures and workflows will be available for future large tracking studies through the Centre for Animal Marking.
The Centre for Animal Marking also sees its role as a place to develop, collect and distribute the necessary know-how for tracking projects: What technology is recommended for which application? How should the device best be attached to the animal? Which conservation and animal welfare permits are necessary? What is the best way to set up the project in Movebank?