Ecological "big-data" reveals insights into a changing arctic

November 05, 2020

The Arctic Animal Movement Archive (AAMA) - a new ecological dataset, which combines three decades of animal tracking studies from across the Arctic - provides a powerful new ecological tool to understand the rapidly changing region better. In a new report, researchers introduce the open-source data archive and use it to show how ecological "big data" can be used to identify early signals of local or Arctic-wide changes in animal behavior and biology due to ongoing climate change. It's widely understood that the Arctic is experiencing the most rapid climate and environmental changes on Earth. Because such rapid shifts challenge Arctic species' ability to adapt, understanding how they respond is central to predicting the Arctic's future. Yet the Arctic is vast, remote and challenging to study; documenting change requires long-term and Arctic-wide data that spans trophic levels. While the substantial body of animal tracking studies conducted over the past several decades and across the Arctic offer a valuable way to evaluate changing dynamics, the data is often focused on single species, incompatible or difficult to discover and access. These issues inspired Sarah Davidson and colleagues to develop the AAMA, a collaborative and growing collection of animal tracking datasets from the past 30 years, which record terrestrial and marine animals' movement throughout the Arctic and its surrounding regions. According to Davidson et al. the dataset, which includes millions of datapoints for 96 species, supports both public discovery and project-specific access rights for unpublished or sensitive data. To showcase the new ecological tool, the authors evaluate several AAMA-based case studies, documenting climatic changes in the timing of golden eagle migration and caribou reproduction, as well as species-specific variations in animal movement in response to rising temperatures.

American Association for the Advancement of Science

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