Wildlife Migration Data Repository Movebank Brings Scientific Community Together
It is more possible than ever to understand when and where wildlife roams. Advances in technology have led to increasingly lightweight and sophisticated tracking devices, and researchers are using these devices to record the movements of everything from butterflies to elephants. As our ability to collect animal movement data increases, so does the number of datasets. As the amount of motion data grows, it becomes important to think about how best to store, manage, and share these data sets.
To meet this need, Movebank was launched in 2008. Hosted by the Max Planck Institute for Animal Behavior (then the Max Planck Institute of Ornithology), the goal of the project was to create a free platform that would help researchers efficiently manage and publicly archive animal movement data. Through Movebank’s platform, researchers and wildlife biologists can upload data, share it with other researchers, and, if they wish, make the data publicly available. Today, more than a decade after it was first posted online, Movebank hosts more than 3.5 billion animal locations and 3.6 billion other animal-borne sensor measurements describing the movements and behavior of 1,178 animal taxa, included in nearly 7,000 studies held by more than 3.300 biologists in the world. It goes without saying, Movebank has become an integral part of bird migration research.
Sarah Davidson joined Movebank in 2011 and was thrilled to have the chance to support animal tracking researchers around the world with a shared data archive that would foster collaborationn and applications to research, conservation, public engagement and policy.
Davidson, who is the data custodian for Movebank, strives to develop the data archive ensuring that the online platform meets the needs of the researchers for whom it is intended. “Part of what makes Movebank a must-have tool for sharing data is its flexibility,” says Davidson. “It is designed to be compatible with all types of tracking data and can keep up with rapidly changing technology.” Moreover, because Movebank aims to support projects from the start of data collection, users can choose how accessible their data is, ranging from publicly available datasets to those only visible to a select group of users. The presence of data on threatened and endangered species makes this sliding scale of accessibility particularly useful.
Movebank not only stores huge amounts of tracking data, but also connects researchers around the world. One of the goals of archiving this data in a central location is to make it easier for researchers to find and use animal movement data to answer questions about topics ranging from climate change to infectious diseases. The Movebank The team facilitated these types of studies to promote a culture of data sharing. “At the beginning, it was necessary to somehow attract people and encourage researchers to store their data on Movebank. But more and more projects require the sharing of data between research groups or the use Movebank to help collect and manage data from day one, and these use cases are often what drive people to our platform,” says Davidson.
At the end of 2020, the Movebank team worked with researchers around the world to launch a Archives of arctic animal movements, which documents animal movements across the Arctic and Subarctic over the past 35 years. Thanks to the resultant collaborative study, they show how the behavior of many species has changed in response to climate change. For example, they found that immaturity Golden Eagles arrive at their Arctic breeding grounds earlier after mild winters. This information will be essential in determining how best to protect vulnerable species in a warming climate.
Like a Migratory Birds Initiative partner, Movebank provides a central location to store and access bird migration data. When researchers agree to share their data with Audubon’s Migratory Bird Initiative, they publish their data on Movebank and make it available to the Migratory Birds Initiative mapping team. Cards produced by this team include a quote to the Movebank archive for all the data they present. If anyone would like to know more about these datasets, they can use this citation to locate the original data and additional information on how, where and when the data was collected, and contact the data owners for any question. If the researcher has made this data publicly available, he can download it directly, and if the use of the data is restricted, he can contact the researcher to request permission to use it.
While the Arctic Animal Movement Archive and the Migratory Bird Initiative demonstrate the potential of MovebankDavidson and his team expect these examples to be only the beginning of what is possible. As Davidson explains, “What makes Movebank a powerful way to answer the questions is that it’s not just a collection of data, it’s also a collection of people.