Motus Wildlife Tracking System: a novel approach for tracking small birds.

  • March 31, 2017
  • by Francis, C. M., Taylor, P. D., & Crysler, Z. J.

We describe a new collaborative network, the Motus Wildlife Tracking System (Motus;, which is an international network of researchers using coordinated automated radio-telemetry arrays to study movements of small flying organisms including birds, bats, and insects, at local, regional, and hemispheric scales. Radio-telemetry has been a cornerstone of tracking studies for over 50 years, and because of current limitations of geographic positioning systems (GPS) and satellite transmitters, has remained the primary means to track movements of small animals with high temporal and spatial precision. Automated receivers, along with recent miniaturization and digital coding of tags, have further improved the utility of radio-telemetry by allowing many individuals to be tracked continuously and simultaneously across broad landscapes. Motus is novel among automated arrays in that collaborators employ a single radio frequency across receiving stations over a broad geographic scale, allowing individuals to be detected at sites maintained by others. Motus also coordinates, disseminates, and archives detections and associated metadata in a central repository. Combined with the ability to track many individuals simultaneously, Motus has expanded the scope and spatial scale of research questions that can be addressed using radio-telemetry from local to regional and even hemispheric scales. Since its inception in 2012, more than 9000 individuals of over 87 species of birds, bats, and insects have been tracked, resulting in more than 250 million detections. This rich and comprehensive dataset includes detections of individuals during all phases of the annual cycle (breeding, migration, and nonbreeding), and at a variety of spatial scales, resulting in novel insights into the movement behavior of small flying animals. The value of the Motus network will grow as spatial coverage of stations and number of partners and collaborators increases. With continued expansion and support, Motus can provide a framework for global collaboration, and a coordinated approach to solving some of the most complex problems in movement biology and ecology.