By Kim Scotto
GAINESVILLE, Fla — Animal migrations are some of the most dramatic natural events on the planet, from wildebeest on the Serengeti to monarch butterflies traveling to Mexico. In fish, an iconic example of migration is salmon returning to their birth sites in huge numbers to spawn before they die.
However, there are still many unknowns in marine animal movement patterns, as their travel occurs underwater and often far offshore. Scientists at the University of Florida are changing this through a collaborative movement ecology research program that started in 2014. It’s called Integrated Tracking of Aquatic Animals in the Gulf of Mexico (iTAG).
The program’s new website launched Monday.
The iTAG website will help researchers throughout the Gulf and in neighboring regions track their animals. Electronically tracking animals over large distances allows scientists to better understand biodiversity hotspots and ecosystem processes.
Sue Lowerre-Barbieri, a research associate professor with the UF/IFAS School of Forest Resources and Conservation and a research scientist at the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, serves as chair of the iTAG program.
“As part of a larger project, we started tracking red drum using acoustic telemetry. We quickly realized that we had no way to know where they went after leaving our monitored spawning aggregation site. This was the spark that got us excited about developing an integrative network,” Barbieri said.
Barbieri developed the iTAG program in partnership with fellow UF/IFAS faculty, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Ocean Tracking Network. With more than 100 current members from the US, Mexico, Cuba and the Caribbean, the program has already collected more than 11 million “detections” of tagged marine animals.
“Anyone who is conducting marine tracking research and is willing to contribute to the database is invited to become a member,” Barbieri said. “iTAG is already changing our ideas of who moves where, including great white sharks from Massachusetts, detected off northwestern Florida and nurse sharks (presumed home-bodies), making annual long-distance migrations.”
There are several research units at UF already utilizing iTAG, including the UF/IFAS wildlife ecology and conservation department, the UF/IFAS Nature Coast Biological Station and the Emerging Pathogens Institute.
“We are really excited about this new site, as it will help get the word out to scientists who may be starting tracking research but not have heard of iTAG and make it possible help those new to this field connect with international colleagues,” Barbieri said.
Members using acoustic tracking methods can upload detected species data directly to the site. Researchers can search the database for their own tag numbers to see where their tagged species have traveled. Visit the iTAG website to learn more about how scientists are tracking movement in the Gulf.
By: Kim Scotto-Kelley, 352-294-7018, firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo by Carlton Ward Jr.
The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media..