Using sound to track the movement of fish is a technique that should be used to better monitor ecosystems and set conservation policies globally, according to a team of international researchers.
In a new paper in Trends in Ecology and Evolution (TREE), Dalhousie PhD student Natalie Klinard and co-authors note that while aquatic telemetry is widely used to track the movement of underwater animals, it’s not being used to its potential for “management-driven objectives,” such as managing fisheries, setting climate policy or protecting species.
“In addition to the need for more research with direct pertinence to management, aquatic telemetry research should prioritize ongoing efforts to create collaborative opportunities, establish long-term and ecosystem-based monitoring, and utilize technological advancements to bolster aquatic policy and ecological understanding worldwide,” the authors write.
Acoustic telemetry is used worldwide to track the movement and behaviour of aquatic animals in systems ranging from inland lakes and rivers to the high seas, and from polar regions to the tropics. It consists of stationary or mobile receivers detecting the presence and location of animals via encoded acoustic signals originating from transmitters that have been internally or externally attached to animals.
A guide for future research
Klinard, a doctoral student in the Integrated Fisheries Lab in Dal’s Department of Biology, collaborated with 17 other researchers who did a comprehensive review of studies using acoustic telemetry to establish existing trends in research and identify knowledge gaps at global and regional scales to guide future research.
“Our goal for this paper was not only to address the current state of acoustic telemetry research, but to bring together a group of experts from around the world to determine actionable steps that will ensure future research meets management needs,” she said.
The review includes data from more than 1,800 published articles and summarizes aquatic animal tracking research in Food and Agriculture Organization areas worldwide.
Starting a conversation
The authors identified six overarching directives to advance the field of aquatic animal tracking, including prioritizing research that has direct relevance to management, optimizing spatiotemporal tracking coverage to address the effects of climate change on animal behaviour, and transitioning research objectives to an ecosystem-based approach.
“Our hope for this paper is that it will help maximize the potential and impact of aquatic animal tracking and start a conversation on how the technology could be used more widely,” said Klinard.
The team, which included many of the world’s leading experts in aquatic ecology, also hopes the research demonstrates the impact of aquatic telemetry and how expertise should be shared around the globe.
“We need to be supporting research in less developed parts of the world so they can do the kind of acoustic tracking that we do here in the Great Lakes and in the Arctic,” said co-author Aaron Fisk, a professor in University of Windsor’s School of the Environment and Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research.
Other researchers who contributed to the article come from Australia, Denmark, Japan, Norway, South Africa, Spain and the United States.
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