Birds tracking

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The Amazon Rainforest is hard to reach, but home to a large number of species. Birds like the Amazonian black skimmers live apart of their life there, but move around a lot. Argos satellite telemetry enable researchers to analyze mathematically the birds’ use of the environment, so as to better protect them.

Photo: an Amazonian black skimmer (credit Emil Rivas Mogollón)

Amazonian black skimmer with an Argos PTT (credit K. Goodenough)
Amazonian black skimmer with an Argos PTT (credit K. Goodenough)

Black skimmers (Rynchops niger) are migratory piscivorous waterbirds living in the Americas. There are six subspecies , including two South American subspecies Rynchops niger cinerascens breeding within the Amazon and Rynchops niger intercedens that breeds along the Atlantic coast of South America. There are no available population estimates for the Amazonian black skimmer, but the Atlantic sub-species of South America (Rynchops niger intercedens) may number 25,000–100,000 individuals.

Black skimmers are thus named from the way they fish, skimming over the surface of the water and catching fish and crustaceans within the top 6 cm of the water using their specialized bill. They are known to forage across shallow coastal and riverine habitats at dawn, dusk and overnight. Other than that, little is known about the Amazonian black skimmers’ use of the complex inland Amazon region, seasonally or daily.

 

Modelling black skimmer habitat use

The southwestern basin of the Amazon Rainforest is very remote making bird movement research very difficult. Amazonian skimmers can travel widely ranging from 40 km up to 1500 km, thus making their behavior impossible to monitor by visual studies only. Satellite telemetry enables researchers to track such movements in very remote areas where travel is difficult, though. In 2014, seven Amazonian black skimmers were equipped with 5-g solar-powered Argos PTTs in Manu National Park (Madre de Dios province, Peru), an area remote from human activities.

The area of study (in blue Manu National Park) and all the locations from the seven black skimmers tracked (from [Loraamm et al, 2020])
The area of study (in blue Manu National Park) and all the locations from the seven black skimmers tracked (from [Loraamm et al, 2020])

 

These birds sent 750 fix locations, over an area of 2,2M km2. A mathematical analysis (probabilistic voxel based space-time prism) was used to derive information on space and habitat use the skimmers are using (like in Restoring rice paddies to help oriental white stork reintroduction success in Japan, Unveiling the mysteries of a scarcely known seabird, the Beck’s petrel, Dugong movements and habitat use in coral reef lagoons, Tracking bottlenose dolphins by night in narrow channels, Argos helps to define a protected area for elephants in Cameroon, Studying black caimans in and out of their pond), and the time at which those habitats are used for the small Manu National Park population. Once the mathematical analyses were complete, skimmer data was overlaid with ESA CCI land cover dataset for the appropriate year, in order to define the habitats involved.

 

Black skimmers opportunistic use of shrimp farms

Example occupancy probability for a given Amazonian black skimmer (nicknamed “Orchid”), showing part of the potential areas of movement (tan) and areas of higher habitat use (red), overlaid with imagery of the area. (from [Loraamm et al, 2020])
Example occupancy probability for a given Amazonian black skimmer (nicknamed “Orchid”), showing part of the potential areas of movement (tan) and areas of higher habitat use (red), overlaid with imagery of the area. (from [Loraamm et al, 2020])

 

This mathematical approach identifies daily habitat use patterns for black skimmers, confirming already known or suspected uses, such as proximity with wetlands (for foraging) at dawn, dusk and overnight. Results for early daylight hours show sustained increases in occupancy for shrub or herbaceous cover, flooded, fresh/saline/brackish water. A new result found by the time analysis, is the use of urban areas at dusk and in the early evening which may be associated with black skimmers’ visiting shrimp farms to feed. Urban areas represent the 9th most abundant cover type accessible to skimmers in the statistics for daylight, but they are the third-most occupied habitat in the evening hours.

 

Benefitting conservation efforts

The results of this research may hint to where Amazonian black skimmers can be found at a given hour of the day, thus helping field observations, especially inland, where the Manu National Park is hard to reach. More direct observation of inland populations could benefit conservation efforts by allowing researchers to highlight important areas to be conserved by understanding space and habitat use of the Amazonian black skimmer provided that more of the population is tracked.

 

Reference & links

 

Photo: an Amazonian black skimmer (credit Emil Rivas Mogollón)

19.01.2021 Animal tracking applications Modelling Amazonian black skimmers habitat use

The Amazon Rainforest is hard to reach, but home to a large number of species. Birds like the Amazonian black skimmers live apart of their life there, but move around a lot. Argos satellite telemetry enable researchers to analyze mathematically the birds’ use of the environment, so as to better…
An oriental white stork with a microwave's GPS Argos PTT (photo Fukui Prefecture)

04.01.2021 Animal tracking applications Restoring rice paddies to help oriental white stork reintroduction success in Japan

Considering the suitability of the environment is the key to successfully reintroduce a species in an habitat where it disappeared. Oriental white storks disappeared from Japan fifty years ago, and are now beginning to be reintroduced, while their natural wetland habitats are declining, but may be compensate by man-made rice…
a sea turtle with an Argos PTT (credit Kelonia)

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Collecting sea turtle-borne temperature and depth sensor data with Argos satellite telemetry tags helps to sample the first 100 m layer of tropical oceans, where tropical storms and cyclones take their energy. It also enables to understand the behaviour of sea turtles trapped in these extreme events. Photo: a sea…
A gull-billed tern diving (© Katharine S. Goodenough)

07.12.2020 Animal tracking applications Gull-billed terns keep their migration route and winter sites from year to year

Migratory birds may keep the same routes and the same nesting and wintering sites from year to year. Such species may be all the more fragile if environmental changes occur. Argos satellite telemetry enables researchers to be able to pinpoint those species, which may need more attention for conservation actions.

26.11.2020 Animal tracking applications Whale sharks in St. Helena

Whale sharks are found in all tropical waters around the globe. Some places could host their reproduction, thus being critical places to protect and potentially important study sites. Argos satellite telemetry helps in trying to unveil the still remaining mysteries of this species.   Photo: Dr. Alistair Dove from…
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16.11.2020 Animal tracking applications News alert: Argos data provides shocking evidence to legitimize Marine Protected Areas

Since 1978 the ARGOS System has been used to improve scientists’ knowledge regarding animal behavior. However, Whale Sharks remain one of the biggest mysteries of the Oceans but thanks to technology we are discovering more and more. Jonathan Green, Founder & Director of the…
the captured Beck’s petrel with its Argos PTT on (credits Bill Morris New Zealand)

12.11.2020 Animal tracking applications Unveiling the mysteries of a scarcely known seabird, the Beck’s petrel

Some species can be mostly unknown even nowadays. Beck’s petrel, a seabird living around Papua-New Guinea island is among them. Understanding where they breed, live can enable to protect them. Argos satellite telemetry helps by enabling to track them during long periods and ranges. Photo: the captured Beck’s petrel with…
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A grey-headed albatross chick with an attached PTT (the aerial can be seen coming from the back of the bird). (credit Derren Fox)

27.10.2020 Animal tracking applications Is tracking marine animals really useful to their protection?

One of the most frequent rationale to fit animals with tracking devices is to help in conservation actions and regulations. In the marine animal case, is this argument only (or mostly) a wish, or are there real consequences consecutive to tracking studies? A study shows that the earlier the stakeholders…
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Since 1978, the ARGOS Data Collection System has served the international wildlife community. With the Kinéis constellation carrying onboard Argos-4 instruments, the metamorphosis of ARGOS is coming. Join us to learn about the future of wildlife telemetry! Thursday 5th November at 10am CET…
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As you all know, on December, 18th 2019, the successful launch of the first ANGELS nanosatellite, developed by CNES, HEMERIA and Thales Alenia Space, ANGELS marked the beginning of the metamorphosis of the ARGOS system. We received the first signal of Angels at…

08.10.2020 Animal tracking applications Dugong movements and habitat use in coral reef lagoons

Dugongs are vulnerable herbivorous marine mammals living in tropical and subtropical coastal waters, including in coral reef lagoons. Their behaviour there is however little known. Argos enabled to track them in such environments around New Caledonia. Photo: a dugong (credit Matthieu Juncker) Authors: Christophe Cleguer (lead), Claire Garrigue, Helene Marsh…
a black-tailed godwit with an Argos PTT (credit Groningen Institute for Evolutionary Life Sciences)

05.10.2020 Animal tracking applications Black-tailed godwits’ different migration behaviours

Migratory birds from a given species are frequently observed to follow the same routes, and do so every year. Tracking different populations with Argos satellite telemetry shows a very different picture for some populations of the black-tailed godwit. Understanding why will need even more tracking. Photo: a black-tailed godwit with…
A male pectoral sandpiper with an Argos PTT (credit: Max Planck Institute for Ornithology)

14.09.2020 Animal tracking applications Winds influence where male pectoral sandpipers will try and breed

Some migratory birds change their breeding sites every year, or even several times in a season. Pectoral sandpipers are among them, and understanding their breeding behaviour thanks to Argos satellite telemetry can help to better protect them.   Photo: A male pectoral sandpiper with an Argos PTT (credit: Max Planck…
Green turtle with an Argos PTT (credit E. Lancelot)

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A ruddy-headed goose with an Argos PTT (Antonella Gorosábel)

17.08.2020 Animal tracking applications Ruddy-headed geese, endangered sheldgeese on South American continent

Ruddy-headed goose is considered regionally endangered in Argentina and Chile, since recent estimates indicate that population size is less than 800 individuals. Ruddy-headed geese were tracked back and forth during their migrations over the South American continent to better understand how to protect them there. Photo: a ruddy-headed goose with…
A pod of bottlenose dolphins. Wendy Noke Durden, under research permit 998-1678 and 14352 from NOAA/NMFS

03.08.2020 Animal tracking applications Tracking bottlenose dolphins by night in narrow channels

Dolphins do have a nightlife, but visual observation techniques cannot fully capture this. Also, coastal populations of dolphins sometimes occupy complex, labyrinthine habitats. Here too line-of-sight techniques fall short. Satellite telemetry doesn’t distinguish between night and day, and, as we will see, can track animals through an aquatic maze. This…
A red-throated diver with an Argos Tag (Credit Claudia Burger)

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Argos can help in evaluating overlaps of human activities and protected aquatic bird habitats. With that information, the planning of new infrastructures such as offshore wind farms can take species like the red-throated divers in consideration. Photo: A red-throated diver with an Argos Tag (Credit Claudia Burger) Wind farms…
sea turtle equipped with a localisation device

10.07.2020 Animal tracking applications Sea turtle ecology: a novel solution to increase knowledge using Argos

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Loggerhead turtle equipped with a satellite tag. Source: Miquel Gomila/SOCIB

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Wandering albatross chick shortly before fledging at Bird Island (South Georgia), fitted with an Argos PTT (Credit BAS)

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Marie B basking shark with a tag in trail (© Y. Massey-APECS)

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seal with an Argos beacon

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Did you know that seals are able to learn the melody of the Star Wars theme? Or that scientific studies based on Argos tracking data have confirmed they are great migrators? The grey seal, long hunted for its fur, still holds lots of surprises. We met Cécile Vincent,…
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An Andean condor with an Argos GPS PTT (credit Gonzalo O. Ignazi)

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A wookcock captured for marking (credit EWMRC)

27.04.2020 Animal tracking applications American woodcock are tracked using Argos satellite telemetry

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An eel in the sea with a pop-up tag

21.04.2020 Animal tracking applications Eels’ travel in the Atlantic tracked by Argos satellite telemetry

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