Aeroecology pp 71-86 | Cite as

Track Annotation: Determining the Environmental Context of Movement Through the Air

  • Renee ObringerEmail author
  • Gil Bohrer
  • Rolf Weinzierl
  • Somayeh Dodge
  • Jill Deppe
  • Michael Ward
  • David Brandes
  • Roland Kays
  • Andrea Flack
  • Martin Wikelski


Volant organisms are adapted to atmospheric patterns and processes. Understanding the lives of animals that inhabit this aerial environment requires a detailed investigation of both the animal’s behavior and its environmental context—i.e., the environment that it encounters at a range of spatial and temporal scales. For aerofauna, it has been relatively difficult to observe the environment they encounter while they move. Large international efforts using satellite and weather model reanalysis now provide some of the environmental data on atmospheric environments throughout the globe. Track annotation—the approach of merging the environmental data with the movement track measured via telemetry—can be conducted automatically using online tools such as Movebank-Env-DATA or RNCEP. New parameterization approaches can use environmentally annotated tracks to approximate specific atmospheric conditions, such as uplift and tail wind, which are not typically observed at the exact locations of the movement, but are critical to movement. Reducing the complexity of movement to single-dimensional characteristic (such as flight speed, elevation, etc.) and defining the temporal scope of the movement phenomenon in the focus of the analysis (seasonal, daily, minutely, etc.) makes it possible to construct empirical models that explain the movement characteristic as driven by the environmental conditions during flight, despite the highly dynamic, complex, and scale-dependent structures of both the flight path and atmospheric variables. This chapter will provide several examples for such empirical movement models from different species of birds and using several resources for atmospheric data.



The authors would like to acknowledge advice and comments from Rachel Bolus. The studies described here were supported by the National Science Foundation (IOS Award #1146832, 1147096, 1145952, and 1147022) and NASA (grant #NNX11AP61G). Additional support for the thrush study was provided by the National Geographic Society Committee on Research and Exploration (Award # 8971-11), Eastern Illinois University (Research and Creative Activity Awards to J.L.D.), University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, the Max-Planck Institute for Ornithology, and The University of Southern Mississippi. The data on the white storks was collected with the help of Wolfgang Fiedler.


  1. Akaike H (1974) A new look at the statistical model identification. IEEE Trans Autom Control 19(6):716–723. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bartlam-Brooks HLA, Beck PSA, Bohrer G, Harris S (2013) When should you head for greener pastures? Using satellite images to predict a zebra migration and reveal its cues. J Geophys Res 118:1427–1437. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bohrer G, Brandes D, Mandel JT, Bildstein KL, Miller TA, Lanzone M, Katzner T, Maisonneuve C, Trembley JA (2012) Estimating updraft velocity components over large spatial scales: contrasting migration strategies of golden eagles and turkey vultures. Ecol Lett 15:96–103. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Bohrer G, Beck PSA, Ngene SM, Skidmore AK, Douglas-Hamilton I (2014) Elephant movement closely tracks precipitation-driven vegetation dynamics in a Kenyan forest-savanna landscape. Mov Ecol 2:2. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  5. Bowlin MS, Wikelski M (2008) Pointed wings, low wingloading and calm air reduce migratory flight costs in songbirds. Plos One 3(5):e2154. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  6. Bowlin MS, Bisson IA, Shamoun-Baranes J, Reichard JD, Sapir N, Marra PP, Kunz TH, Wilcove DS, Hedenström A, Guglielmo CG, Åkesson S, Ramenofsky M, Wikelski M (2010) Grand challenges in migration biology. Integr Comp Biol 50(3):261–279. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Cimino MA, Fraser WR, Irwin AJ, Oliver MJ (2013) Satellite data identify decadal trends in the quality of Pygoscelis penguin chick-rearing habitat. Glob Change Biol 19(1):136–148. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cochran WW, Wikelski M (2005) Individual migratory tactics of New World Catharus thrushes: current knowledge and future tracking options from space. In: Greenberg R, Marra PP (eds) Birds of two worlds: the ecology and evolution of migration. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, pp 274–289Google Scholar
  9. Deppe JL, Ward MP, Bolus RT, Diehl RH, Celis-Murillo A, Zenzal TJ, Moore FR, Benson TJ, Smolinsky JA, Schofield LN, Enstrom DA, Paxton EH, Bohrer G, Beveroth TA, Raim A, Obringer RL, Delaney D, Cochran WW (2015) Fat, weather, and date affect migratory songbirds’ departure decisions, routes, and time it takes to cross the Gulf of Mexico. Proc Natl Acad Sci 112(46):E6331–E6338. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  10. Dodge S, Bohrer G, Weinzierl R, Davidson SC, Kays R, Douglas D, Cruz S, Han J, Brandes D, Wikelski M (2013) The environmental-data automated track annotation (Env-DATA) system: linking animal tracks with environmental data. Mov Ecol 1:3. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  11. Dodge S, Bohrer G, Bildstein K, Davidson SC, Weinzierl R, Bechard MJ, Barber D, Kays R, Han J, Wikelski M (2014) Environmental drivers of variability in the movement ecology of turkey vultures (Cathartes aura) in North and South America. Philos Trans R Soc B 369(1643):20130195. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Flack A, Fiedler W, Blas J, Pokrovsky I, Kaatz M, Mitropolsky M, Aghababyan K, Fakriadis I, Makrigianni E, Jerzak L, Azafzaf H, Feltrup-Azafzaf C, Rotics S, Mokotjomela TM, Nathan R, Wikelski M (2016) Costs of migratory decisions: a comparison across eight white stork populations. Sci Adv 2(1):e1500931. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  13. Hagemeijer WJM, Blair MJ (1997) The EBCC atlas of European breeding birds: their distribution and abundance. Poyser, LondonGoogle Scholar
  14. Kays R, Tilak S, Crofoot M, Fountain T, Obando D, Ortega A, Kuemmeth F, Mandel J, Swenson G, Lambert T, Hirsch B, Wikelski M (2011) Tracking animal location and activity with an automated radio telemetry system in a tropical rainforest. Comput J 54(12):1931–1948. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Kemp MU, Shamoun-Baranes J, van Gasteren H, Bouten W, van Loon EE (2010) Can wind help explain seasonal differences in avian migration speed? J Avian Biol 41(6):672–677. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Kemp MU, van Loon EE, Shamoun-Baranes J, Bouten W (2012) RNCEP: global weather and climate data at your fingertips. Methods Ecol Evol 3:65–70CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Kranstauber B, Cameron A, Weinzierl R, Fountain T, Tilak S, Wikelski M, Kays R (2011) The Movebank data model for animal tracking. Environ Model Softw 26(6):834–835. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kummerow C, Barnes W, Kozu T, Shiue J, Simpson J (1998) The tropical rainfall measuring mission (TRMM) sensor package. J Atmos Ocean Technol 15(3):809–817.<0809:TTRMMT>2.0.CO;2 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Mandel JT, Bohrer G, Winkler DW, Barber DR, Houston CS, Bildstein KL (2011) Migration path annotation: cross-continental study of migration-flight response to environmental conditions. Ecol Appl 21(6):2258–2268CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. McLaren JD, Shamoun-Baranes J, Bouten W (2012) Wind selectivity and partial compensation for wind drift among nocturnally migrating passerines. Behav Ecol 23(5):1089–1101CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  21. Mesinger F, DiMego G, Kalnay E, Mitchell K, Shafran PC, Ebisuzaki W, Jovic D, Woollen J, Rogers E, Berbery EH, Ek MB, Fan Y, Grumbine R, Higgins W, Li H, Lin Y, Manikin G, Parrish D, Shi W (2006) North American regional reanalysis. Bull Am Meteorol Soc 87(3):343–360CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Nathan R, Getz WM, Revilla E, Holyoak M, Kadmon R, Saltz D, Smouse PE (2008) A movement ecology paradigm for unifying organismal movement research. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 105(49):19052–19059. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  23. Phillips SJ, Dudík M (2008) Modeling of species distributions with Maxent: new extensions and a comprehensive evaluation. Ecography 31(2):161–175. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Shamoun-Baranes J, Leshem Y, Yom-Tov Y, Liechti O (2003) Differential use of thermal convection by soaring birds over central Israel. Condor 105(2):208–218CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Thorup K, Bisson IA, Bowlin MS, Holland RA, Wingfield JC, Ramenofsky M, Wikelski M (2007) Evidence for a navigational map stretching across the continental US in a migratory songbird. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 104(46):18115–18119. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  26. Treep H, Bohrer G, Shamoun-Baranes J, Duriez O, Frasson RPdM, Bouten W (2016) Using high resolution GPS tracking data of bird flight for meteorological observations. Bull Am Meteorol Soc (in press). doi:
  27. van Loon EE, Shamoun-Baranes J, Bouten W, Davis SL (2011) Understanding soaring bird migration through interactions and decisions at the individual level. J Theor Biol 270(1):112–126. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. von Engeln A, Teixeira J (2013) A planetary boundary layer height climatology derived from ECMWF reanalysis data. J Clim 26(17):6575–6590. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Watson GE, Cramp S, Simmons KEL (1978) Handbook of the birds of Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa: the birds of the Western Palearctic, Ostrich to ducks, vol 1. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Renee Obringer
    • 1
    Email author
  • Gil Bohrer
    • 1
  • Rolf Weinzierl
    • 2
  • Somayeh Dodge
    • 3
  • Jill Deppe
    • 4
  • Michael Ward
    • 5
  • David Brandes
    • 6
  • Roland Kays
    • 7
  • Andrea Flack
    • 2
  • Martin Wikelski
    • 2
    • 8
  1. 1.Department of Civil, Environmental and Geodetic EngineeringThe Ohio State UniversityColumbusUSA
  2. 2.Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Vogelwarte RadolfzellRadolfzellGermany
  3. 3.Department of Geography, Environment and SocietyUniversity of Minnesota, Twin CitiesMinneapolisUSA
  4. 4.Department of Biological SciencesEastern Illinois UniversityCharlestonUSA
  5. 5.Department of Natural Resources and Environmental SciencesUniversity of IllinoisUrbanaUSA
  6. 6.Civil and Environmental EngineeringLafayette CollegeEastonUSA
  7. 7.NC State University, NC Museum of Natural SciencesRaleighUSA
  8. 8.Department of BiologyUniversity of KonstanzKonstanzGermany

Personalised recommendations