International Users Conference on Argos Wildlife Applications, November 18 – 20, 2014, Baltimore, USA

BML also attended this conference where representatives of many corporations (*) working within the Argos system as Collecte Localisation Satellite (CLS), a key subsidiary of Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES), and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)  gathered together with many Argos users to catch up with cutting-edge research under development or recently published. Also getting to know in person the different members of the system and their users, who are both usually behind the on line interface, was a good motivation for attendance.

The conference was opened by Bill Woodward, Vice President of Environmental monitoring CLS America followed by Jean-Yves Le Gall, President of CNES, giving a historical view of the Argos system that started in 1978 when the first satellite for wildlife, pollution, climate change, fisheries and forecast studies was launched.

The National Aquarium, where the venue took place, is located at  Baltimore harbour (center of the picture)

The venue took place in Baltimore National Aquarium located at the harbour

Special attention was centred on satellite tracking studies of marine fauna – but also terrestrial – and environmental patterns to understand habitat use, migration ecology and distribution, in some cases projected to future global change and always with a conservation perspective.

Barbara Block from Hopkins Marine Station and Stanford showed that up-to-date biologging technology contributes to understand the ecology and physiology of tunas, sharks and billfishes. They used tracking data to map preferred habitats with climate and oil spill layers. They suggested that population segregation is maintained in Atlantic bluefin tuna, supported by DNA and tracking analysis that gave evidence of breeding site fidelity. After mapping the distributions, the legal protection of spawning areas was achieved.

Bernd Meyburg from World Working Group of Birds of Prey gave an overview on the satellite tracking of amur falcon (Falco amurensis) and hobby (Falco subbuteo). Amur falcons perform the longest raptor migration, a 5 days non-stop spring migration from S Africa to E Asia across the Indic Ocean instead of migrating, as previously thought, over the Arabian Peninsula. Possible reasons for this route are linked to the monsoon season. While waiting for the fall migration data they believe that these tiny falcons take a more southern route back to the winter ground.

Main finding of the amur falcon satellite tracking

Main finding of the amur falcon satellite tracking

Most striking data on the hobby migration centre on the spring migration since they fly over W Africa. They are currently studying the factors related to this extensive migration loop northwards.

Hobby fitted with a PTT

Female hobby fitted with a PTT

David H. Johnson from University of Idaho and Idaho Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit explained that long term banding, light-level and satellite tracking studies are used for understanding the ecology of burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia) in west US. This particular owl, who ‘borrows’ abandoned burrows for breeding, is partially migrant. A proportion of adult males winters few hundred kilometers north of their breeding sites. They suggest that, despite habitat lost, prey availability in these northern areas is higher compared to the more distant traditional wintering areas in southwest US.

Burrowing owl fitted with a lifted satellite tag

Burrowing owl fitted with a lifted satellite tag to avoid feathers on  solar panel

Nylon-coated stainless steel cable destroid by burrowing owl

Nylon-coated stainless steel cable destroyed by burrowing owl. After this experiment, they changed to teflon as harness material

Dave Douglas at the US Geological Survey Alaska Science Center focused on bird satellite tracking for conservation of key areas showing that red-throated (Gavia stellata) and yellow-billed loons (Gavia adamsii) share winter areas that are split into two: one in Asia and another in western US. In Alaska, red-throated loons breed in N and W areas but yellow-billed breed only in a more northern site.

Meenakshi Nagendran from United States Fish and Wildlife Service showed satellite tracks of red-breasted geese (Branta rufficollis) from wintering areas in Bulgaria and stated that hunting presure is an important threat since the species is hunted in protected areas. Mixed flocks with white-fronted geese (Anser albifrons) contribute to this conservation problem.

Red-breasted Geese migration routes

Red-breasted geese migration routes

Finally, important improvements in satellite positioning will be available next year for Argos users. Rémy Lopez from CLS France showed that these changes are focused on the error minimization of the satellite messages.

Rémy Lopez and team from CLS had an important participation in the conference presenting two talks and posters

Rémy Lopez and team from CLS had an important participation in the conference presenting two talks and posters

Marta representing BML in the conference with Rémy Lopez

Rémy Lopez with Marta L. Vega on behalf of BML


(*) Argos environmental studies started more than 30 years ago from the cooperation between CNES, NOAA and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Later on it was joined with Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and now with European operational satellite agency for monitoring weather, climate and the environment (EUMETSAT) and Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

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