The Motus Wildlife Tracking System (hereafter Motus: Latin for movement or motion) is an international collaborative research network that uses cooperative automated radio telemetry to track small flying organisms (birds, bats, and insects). The system enables the conservation science community to undertake cost-effective, impactful research and education on the ecology and conservation of hundreds of species simultaneously. Motus is a program of Birds Canada in collaboration with a wide network of researchers and organizations. Motus collaborators deploy small radio transmitters that are detected by Motus stations placed at strategic locations throughout the landscape which can detect tags up to 20 km away. Depending on the configuration of a receiver array, tags can be monitored continuously, or as they occupy space monitored by other stations in the landscape. From the outset the philosophy behind Motus has been that we should all be working together. Motus harnesses the collective power of individuals and organizations into a coordinated coalition that expands the scale and amplifies the impact of everyone’s work, and optimizes scarce research and conservation dollars.
Motus collaborators currently maintain more than 1,200 stations in 31 countries. More than 400 projects have deployed over 30,000 tags on more than 250 species of birds, bats, and insects. These data have contributed to 130 academic publications covering a wide range of disciplines such as breeding and post-breeding dispersal, stopover and migration behavior, habitat use, and overwintering ecology. Data collected by Motus is revolutionizing our understanding of migratory animals and is being used in conservation planning for species and sites, status assessments and recovery plans for species at risk, environmental assessment and mitigation planning for development projects, and contributing to numerous continental conservation efforts.
Tagged animals can only be detected if they pass within range of a Motus station, so ensuring that stations are strategically positioned across the landscape is important to allow for tracking throughout as much of their life cycle as possible.
There are two primary ways to participate in building and maintaining the Motus station network:
Each new station increases the area across which tagged animals can be tracked. However, not every location is a great candidate for a Motus station.
The most important factor is that the antennas have an unobstructed view in the direction they are facing. For this reason, the highest point on the surrounding landscape (within 5-10 km) is usually preferred. This may be a hill or other prominent feature, shoreline, a station attached to an existing building, or a standalone station that exceeds the height of any nearby trees or features.
Along with the strictly necessary, there are some other features that make some sites better than others:
- Unobstructed line-of-sight for the antennas is essential
- AC power adds reliability and reduces cost compared to solar and battery setup
- Internet (WiFi or hard wired) allows regular data uploads and quicker identification of issues
- Existing structures to attach the antennas to (like an unused TV or communications tower) can lower the cost of installation and increase long term durability
- Ease of access keeps time and travel costs down for installation and maintenance
Motus stations come in many shapes and sizes, but at minimum each one consists of a radio receiver, one or more antennas, and a power supply. The exact configuration depends on the specific site, but a handful of examples are pictured below.
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Commitment, Liability, and Cost
When installing a new station, we prefer to aim for at least a 5-10-year commitment from the landowner to host the station. However, these agreements are non-binding, and if a landowner requests the station be removed prior to this time, this can be accommodated.
Birds Canada holds $5 million public liability insurance to cover staff and volunteers during the installation of the equipment, as well as all public and private landowners from liability created by installed equipment throughout the duration of the project. If embarking on an independent station installation you will want to confirm your own insurance requirements. In most cases the costs for station equipment, installation, and maintenance is covered by the Motus collaborator requesting to setup the station. There are no annual fees to station hosts and landowners.
Benefits to the Host
- Supporting one of the largest collaborative migratory animal conservation science and research initiatives in the world
- Access to visualizations of animal movement data collected from yours and other stations
- Educational opportunities using the infrastructure, data, or technology
- Opportunity to actively participate in ongoing research and monitoring projects
- Opportunities for mutual outreach, promotion and community engagement
- Conversation starter/piece and decorative landscape art
One of the largest obstacles to station setup and maintenance is funding. Even if a perfect site is available, a lack of suitable funding can prevent a station from coming together.
The cost of a station varies widely depending on the configuration of the station, number of antennas, needs for power, ease of access of the station, etc. We generally offer an estimate of roughly $7.5k as a ballpark for the purchase, installation, and maintenance of a “typical” station. In some cases, where existing infrastructure is already in place and can be used, the cost can be significantly lower. For installations in remote areas, or which require specialized contactors to install, the cost could be higher. See Table 1. for an estimate of station costs.
Endangered Red Knot (Photo: Yves Aubry)
Table 1. Estimates of Motus station equipment, setup, and maintenance costs.
* Procurement, setup, and annual maintenance costs can vary substantially depending on the specifics of each installation.
- The widest variety of animals to be monitored over the greatest distance with relatively high geographic precision, and incredible temporal precision
- Centralized, public data portal for automated radio telemetry projects globally
- Metadata management services – project, station and tag metadata management system.
- Data management services – access, clean, and explore your data through the Motus R package.
- Explore Data – see what’s been detected at your and other stations around the world.
- Shared local-to-hemispheric tracking infrastructure.
- Innovative, affordable, open-source hardware and software.
- Compatibility across numerous cutting-edge technology providers.
- A large international collaborative community. Scientific altruism at its best.
Motus is helping to advance:
- Animal and Migration Science:
- Open framework for development, code, and analysis sharing
- Movement, migration, and population ecology
- Animal behavior and physiology
- Environmental impact assessment and management
- Populations, survival, and species dynamics
- Stopover, site-based, and full life-cycle knowledge
- Improving knowledge of how animals use flyways and landscapes
- Education and Training:
- Undergraduate through postgraduate studies
- Grade X-12 STEM curriculum links
- Public engagement and storytelling