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14 March: A horizon scan of marine animal movement ecology reveals most pressing research questions

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14 March 2016

A strategic road map for future research in movement ecology has been outlined by a team of national and international ecologists.

In a forward-thinking exercise co-led by scientists at the Australian Institute of Marine Science, the highest priority science questions were identified from feedback provided by 40 experts in the field of bio-logging of marine megafauna (such as turtles, whales and sharks). This consultative, priority-setting process responds to the need for more targeted research, especially in light of the realities of resource limitations and the sensitivities of research subjects.

Key questions to emerge from the process include:


  1. Are there simple rules underlying seemingly complex movement patterns and hence common drivers for movement across species?
  2. How does learning and memory versus innate behaviours influence movement patterns including ontogenetic changes?
  3. To what degree do social interactions influence movements?
  4. How does the distribution of prey impact movement?
  5. What sensory information do animals use to sense prey, breeding partners and environmental conditions?
  6. Can movement data provide information on the ecosystem role of marine megafauna?
  7. How much does the physical environment influence movement?
  8. How will climate change impact animal movements?
  9. How can risks, consequences and benefits of bio-logging at the level of individuals and populations be evaluated?
  10. How do we integrate physiological content into tracking studies to gain a more synoptic picture of movement and behaviour?
  11. What are the major drivers of long distance movements?
  12. How does predation risk influence movement strategies?
  13. What areas can be considered hotspots for multiple species on a global scale?
  14. How do anthropogenic activities (e.g. shipping, fishing, water management) affect movements?


The outcomes of the research, published today in the high-impact journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution, are poised to extend beyond marine mega fauna, and have application to the general field of animal biotelemetry. The need for promoting cross-discipline collaborations, for example, among ecologists, mathematicians and physicists, as well as the need for further investment in technological innovations is also raised through this research.


*AIMS homepage - southern elephant seal image credit: Mark Hindell