The new tracking technologies represent a powerful tool for wildlife studies, providing the researchers with vast, precise, high frequency animal movement datasets. Additional environmental and socio-economic datasets can be put into relation with animal distribution and space use, therefore allowing to address questions on ecosystem processes. At the same time, however, this information framework poses a number of new challenges in terms of data storage, management, analysis and dissemination.
The EURODEER group intends to manage and analyze millions of roe deer location data (especially GPS data) and many more activity data in a multiuser environment, integrated with several other environmental and socioeconomic datasets.
The software platform
The EURODEER software platform derives from the work done for the Information System for Analysis and Management of Ungulate Data - ISAMUD - developed at Fondazione E. Mach-Research and Innovation Centre from 2005 on. It integrates different software applications into a flexible, modular and interoperable platform with a server-client architecture, where data are stored in a Spatial Relational DataBase Management System (SRDBMS) to which client applications can be concurrently and remotely connected to perform specific tasks. This approach offers effective data handling and management techniques that are essential in maintaining the integrity and accuracy of the movement data and facilitate analysis, querying and reporting. Spatially enabled relational database management systems (also called "spatial database", "Spatial Relational DataBase Management System - SRDBMS", "geodatabase") are database designed to store, query, and manipulate spatial data. The main advantage of SRDBMS, as compared to flat file based data storage, is that they embed GIS capabilities in the RDBMS. This includes support for SQL and the ability to generate complex geospatial queries. While traditional GIS are focused on advanced data analysis and visualization, providing a rich set of spatial operations, on few data, spatial databases allow simple spatial operations which can be efficiently undertaken on a large set of elements . This approach suits perfectly the peculiarities of GPS data.
The use of a RDBMS has several advantages, for example:
- It has a persistent and very large data storage capability.
- It can implement automated procedures to receive, screen, and store data from GPS telemetry devices.
- GPS data can be linked to complex spatial and non-spatial data in a common data structure.
- Multiple users can simultaneously access data with different permissions.
- It has the ability to manage different time and spatial reference systems in the same framework.
- It has fast data search and retrieval capabilities.
- It supports controls on data consistency and reduce errors.
- In the modular structure, many software applications can be connected to the database to perform specific tasks while data are kept into the database, avoiding data replication.
- Specific user-friendly interfaces for data visualization and analysis.
- Flexibility to add new modules and develop new tools.
- Web-based tools to disseminate data and results.
The open source option
The EURODEER software platform is based on open source software. The database is developed on PostgreSQL/PostGIS with R functionalities embedded through Pl/R. This choice is based on several reasons, particularly:
- A wide variety of free and powerful software are available, including RDBMS, SRDBMS, GIS packages and statistical softwares to implement GPS telemetry applications
- Adaptation to personal needs are possible with low entry barrier
- The free software licenses help the diffusion of the system in the scientific community
- Open source GIS software packages commonly use international standards for spatial formats and data exchange protocols ensuring compatibility among different GIS software packages and in heterogeneous work groups
- Open source software tools are free: money can be used to customize the platform and to acquire data
Each researcher can then connect with the database using his/her favourite tool, including proprietary software.