Cleverly calculated: where bears and co wander

The endangered European brown bear lives in the Sirente Velino Regional Park in Abruzzo, Italy. (Image: Stefano_Pellicciari / iStock)

They like to be on the move in a way that saves energy – large wild animals prefer “comfortable” routes: Researchers have used this to develop software that can predict the movement patterns of bears and co. All that is needed is physical data on the species and landscape information. The use of “enerscape” can thus represent an alternative to complex measurements using radio transmitters. The maps on the probability of animal presence can reduce conflicts with humans, as the scientists illustrate using the example of the brown bear population in Abruzzo, Italy.

Where are large animals most likely to be in their area of ​​distribution, which migration routes do they use and where do they come into contact with civilization? Knowing about the movement patterns or being able to predict them is of great importance for humans and animals. The information is important for agriculture and forestry as well as nature and landscape protection in the regions concerned. In the case of predators such as bears or wolves, if their whereabouts overlap with those of livestock or people, conflicts can also arise, which impair any protection efforts. Information about possible hotspots can therefore benefit the management of potentially problematic animal species.

Usual procedures are time-consuming

In order to create movement pattern maps of wild animals, long-term surveys – so-called telemetry data – have so far been collected. They come from individual animals that have been equipped with radio transmitters. However, this type of mapping is time-consuming and expensive. In many regions, telemetry data can hardly be collected due to the lack of radio links. One example is the Sirente Velino Regional Park in Abruzzo, Italy. In the approximately 50,000 hectare mountain region there is still a remaining population of the European brown bear (Ursus arctos marsicanus). For the protection of these animals and the interests of the people in the partly populated region, better information about routes and places of retreat for the bears would be important. However, as in other regions, no usable telemetry data could be collected in the Sirente Velino Regional Park.

In order to be able to create basic movement pattern maps without this source of information, the researchers working with Emilio Berti from the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena have now developed the software “enerscape”. “What is special is that the software requires very little data as a basis,” explain the researchers. The system is based on the dependence of the movement patterns on the topographical features of the landscape. Because animals tend to look for less strenuous routes through the ups and downs of the terrain – if possible. For the system, the basic energy expenditure that it needs for a distance is first determined from the weight of an animal and its general movement behavior. The software can then link these values ​​with the known landscape features of an area, the scientists explain.

Information about potential conflict and protection zones

“We can then use this information to create so-called energy maps for the animals. These are calculated instead of measured movement pattern maps and thus represent a cost-effective alternative to traditional maps. In special applications, such as in the Italian national park, our method makes the creation of movement pattern maps possible in the first place, ”says Berti.

With enerscape, the researchers have now been able to show which paths the bears prefer because of the comparatively low energy consumption. This can explain, for example, why they often move through settlement areas where conflicts with people can arise. The software also shows where the bears are often in safe areas. With enerscape, both conflict zones and possible protection zones can now be made clear for the bears with little effort. The maps can also be used to check to what extent parts of the landscape are still networked well enough so that the animals can move sufficiently in their area of ​​distribution, say the researchers.

As they finally emphasize, the system can be easily adapted for different animal species and regions: the software has a modular structure and can thus process animal locomotion and topography data from different ecosystem types. “This opens up interesting opportunities for research and wildlife management,” says senior author Fritz Vollrath from the University of Oxford. “This could mean that the number of maps on animal movements in landscapes will multiply in just a short time. With significantly more map material, the understanding of the behavioral ecology of a species in a certain habitat will also fundamentally change. And that will primarily benefit nature conservation and, in particular, the reintroduction of wild animals, ”said Vollrath.

Source: German Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research, specialist article:
Methods in Ecology and Evolution, doi: 10.1111 / 2041-210X.13734

Recent Articles

Related Stories

Stay on op - Ge the daily news in your inbox