Date: 18.02.2022

Big-data world brings revolution to movement ecology

Have you ever been interested in what fish do at night, where they hide in winter, or where that bird that frequently visits your bird feeder flies? The current revolution in animal movement tracking technologies may soon provide you with answers to such questions. A review of the ongoing advances in understanding animal movement was recently published in the journal Science. with input from scientists from the Biology Centre CAS.

Movement is a basic characteristic of all life, and an omnipresent feature in nature. All organisms are able to move, either actively or passively, and their movement drives natural processes, survival and interactions among species, including those with humans, as well as susceptibility to anthropogenic impacts. Interactions of animal movement with these factors are the main subject of the field of movement ecology - in other words, movement ecology is dealing with how, when and why an animal is moving, and with consequences of that movement for animal itself and its environment. It can provide key insights in the fields of ecology, evolution, behavioral sciences, as well as for effective biodiversity management and conservation.

For decades the movement ecology suffered for lack of data, as for many animals observing their movement is extremely challenging. However, recent development of novel technologies and data processing tools have resulted in a rapid development of the field of movement ecology. In a new study published recently in the journal Science (, a large international group, with 37 authors from 29 institutions and 12 countries, explored the ongoing big-data revolution in movement ecology, and novel insights it is providing into the ecology of life on the move.

Technologies enable to track animals in high resolution for many months or years

The study analyses the advances in the movement ecology field, including the use of different modern tracking technologies such as reverse-GPS technologies, GPS-based systems, and radar and computer vision. These state-of-the-art technologies provide nowadays high-resolution spatiotemporal movement of tracked individuals for long periods of time (i.e., resolution of their locations can be in meters or even centimetres, several times per minute for many months or years). Such precise data can be obtained from both terrestrial and aquatic animals, and they can precisely reveal their life as never before. Big movement data obtained through these technologies can for example help associate inter-individual variation in movement with individual behavior, traits, cognition and physiology, reveal fine-scale interactions, and improve evidence-based wildlife management. High-throughput movement ecology is opening new research frontiers in biology and ecology.

This development also entails some challenges of big data, related to high computational load, data management and processing, and the need for advanced statistical analyses. The study also provides recommendations for key measures to ensure future progress in the field, which include combining observational with experimental movement ecology, combining low- and high-rate sampling, improving interoperability between technologies, standardizing and sharing data, and promoting multidisciplinary international collaboration.

The study was initiated at the international workshop, organized in 2018 in České Budějovice, Czech Republic, by Ivan Jarić and Milan Říha from the Biology Centre of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Institute of Hydrobiology. They have also led the establishment of the Lake Fish Telemetry Group (LFTG), an international network and  initiative that brings together research groups involved in lake fish telemetry in Europe to conduct joint multi-lake research activities using combined fish telemetry datasets. The initiative was established through the project funded by ALTER-Net ( and implemented by the Biology Centre. Project participants include top researchers and research groups in the field of fish ecology and fisheries in Europe and globally.

Researchers track thousands of tagged individuals of various fish species

"The group collaborates on studies based on a joint telemetry dataset of European lakes, shared among the research groups, which comprises thousands of tagged and tracked individuals of various fish species, and hundreds of billions of fish detections, combined with detailed geomorphological and environmental data", says Ivan Jarić, coordinator of the Group and the project, and one of the authors of the study. "We also brought together experts from other research areas and disciplines, including research groups focused on terrestrial movement ecology and experts on advanced statistical methods for the analysis of animal movement data. Our aim was to provide an opportunity for interdisciplinary collaboration, to provide a broader perspective to shared research questions, initiate joint studies, exchange of knowledge and experiences, and future joint collaboration plans". The group is now organizing another international workshop, which will be held this year at the Biology Centre in České Budějovice.


Within the Institute of Hydrobiology, Milan Říha and Ivan Jarić are leading a Fish Telemetry Group (FishTeg), a group of young researchers working mostly with acoustic positioning systems and passive telemetry. "Our database includes tens of millions of positions from nine fish species, gathered in several lakes in Czechia", says Milan Říha, another author of the study. "We are using modern fish tracking technologies to address some key research questions in the field of fish ecology in a way that was until recently not possible, due to logistic and technical challenges such research would require. For example, where do fish reside during different parts of the day and seasons? What is the preferred habitat of different species, and how do fish interact in time and space? What are behavioral patterns and differences among economically important, predator fish species such as pike, wels catfish and perch? How do fish react to changes in weather and seasonal conditions, and how are they expected to react under climate change? Understanding questions such as these, and the general use of space and time by animals, is one of crucial tasks of ecology."


For more detailed information, check the article published in Science:

Nathan, R., Monk, C.T., Arlinghaus, R., Adam, T., Alós, J., Assaf, M., Baktoft, H., Beardsworth, C.E., Bertram, M.G., Bijleveld, A.I., Brodin, T., Brooks, J.L., Campos-Candela, A., Cooke, S.J., Gjelland, K.Ø., Gupte, P.R., Harel, R., Hellström, G., Jeltsch, F., Killen, S.S., Klefoth, T., Langrock, R., Lennox, R.J., Lourie, E., Madden, J.R., Orchan, Y., Pauwels, I.S., Říha, M., Roeleke, M., Schlägel, U., Shohami, D., Signer, J., Toledo, S., Vilk, O., Westrelin, S., Whiteside, M.A. and Jarić, I. (2022). Big-data approaches enable increased understanding of animal movement ecology. Science doi: 10.1126/science.abg1780




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