Inferring animal distribution from both surveys and satellite tags

Mapping the distribution of mobile species is a long-standing problem in ecology. For many species, there are multiple types of data available, roughly categorized into surveys of many individuals at a snapshot period in time (e.g. a systematic spatial survey recording all individuals at a point in time) compared to tracking devices that follow individuals over time as they move through space (e.g. satellite tracking tags). Now, a new study on common murres shows how the two methods can be combined to give detailed information about the space that these birds inhabit. The results from systematic ship-based and aerial surveys show that common murres are present in great densities close to their coastal colonies, and are rare further away. However, satellite tags on individuals demonstrate that some individuals are not at all tied to the colony areas, and can roam far afield. This the study population can comprise residents that are tied to colonies and tourists that travel far afield. The new work was led by former SAFS PhD student Elizabeth Phillips, SAFS professor John Horne, Jeannette Zamon of NOAA Fisheries, and USGS researchers Jonathan Felis and Josh Adams, and appears in the journal Ecology and Evolution.

Distribution of 12 satellite-tagged common murres.
Distribution of common murres from systematics ship-based surveys and systematic aerial surveys.
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