Servicio de Información Comunitario sobre Investigación y Desarrollo - CORDIS

Final Activity Report Summary - SEARS (Spatial Economics and Remote Sensing of Elephant Resources)

The effect of pressure by human expansion puts special emphasis on a solid understanding of the way by which wildlife uses an ecosystem. The elephant is an important case in point. Both in Asia and Africa elephants are ecologically important as landscape 'gardeners', they are economically important as tourist attractions and socio-politically elephants are important as destroyers of crops and thus in many areas as the key animal defining areas of serious human-wildlife conflict. The combination of these factors makes it important for us to accurately analyse not only the full habitat and ecotope range use by elephants but also focus on specific areas of special interest. Developments in radio tracking technology (using location determination to meter accuracy by GPS global positioning satellite fixation) make this now possible.

GPS tracking in combination with novel satellite-based sensor technology gives us the opportunity to use remote sensing to analyse the availability and quality of resources for elephants. Specifically, the combination allows us to achieve very high levels of resolution in plotting the elephant's spatio-temporal movements in their environment. Not surprisingly, such fine-grained data require novel analysis methods. SEARS set out to tap into these new technologies, and further develop methods to embed spatial and remotely sensed data into ecological models and animal behaviour studies over a very large scale. Ultimately, we attempted to combine and consolidate tracking data from all over Africa. This ambitious study required the development of specific databases to hold and clean up (from poor data fixes and satellite down-load time errors) as well as rigorously analyse the enormous dataset consisting of millions of location fixes collected every hour over many years from hundreds of elephants in African regions as diverse as Northern and Coastal Kenya, the South African Veld, the Mali Deserts and the Congo Basin Forests. In addition, the study requires the analysis of high-resolution geo-spatial data-layers. All of these data-points have to be correlated intelligently in order to extract the information relevant to elephant distribution patterns on the ground.

The combination of a mixed research team of statisticians, spatial modellers and herbivore-ecologists with the experience of tracking herbivores and the availability of real-time tracking data of animals enabled SEARS to develop novel data-storage and analysis methods. However, given the unforeseen complexity of the task, and its importance for elephant conservation, the final analysis is still on-going. Nevertheless, the novel statistical tools developed during a months' long workshop in Oxford followed by regular email-teleconferences allowed the team to define a set of parameters that will allow us, finally, to compare elephant movements and the ecological drivers behind them, in a pan-African context.

Reported by

University of Oxford
Parks Road
OX1 3PU Oxford
United Kingdom
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