European roe deer is a very well studied species, because of its crucial role in European ecosystems and because it is a very good model species, both for ecological and evolutionary reasons. However, the time might have come for synthesising our knowledge into a wider and more complex picture, that would allow to clarify ecosystemic relationships (e.g., resource balance), reveal evolutionary patterns (e.g., animal performance), and underpin predictions on future scenarios (e.g., climate change effect). Recent technological advancement, such as GPS collars and activity sensors, allowed to obtain more data and of better quality. However, existing tools and procedures of analysis may under-exploit the potential of those data. Everybody agreed that a spatial database populated with data from different areas would strongly support the attempt to develop a complete picture of roe deer biology, within a ecological and evolutionary context. At the same time, it would offer the opportunity to join the data of different research groups into a well supported repository, with transparent accessibility.
These are the premises that brought us to develop the EUropean ROe DEER Information System (EURODEER). It is first of all an open network of researchers who collaborate sharing data and knowledge to produce better science. It is based on a spatial database that stores shared movement data and a wide set of ancillary information on roe deer to investigate variation in roe deer behavioural ecology along environmental gradients or population responses to specific conditions, such as habitat changes, impact of human activities, different hunting regimes. EURODEER group is trying to fully explore the opportunities given by the new monitoring technologies for conservation and management at both local and continental scale. The spatial database, built upon open source software (mainly, PostgreSQL + PostGIS + R) and hosted at Fondazione Edmund Mach, can be connected to a large set of client applications (GIS, web interfaces, statistics) to help storing, managing, accessing and analysing tracking data from several research groups throughout Europe.
The ultimate goal of the EURODEER project is to investigate ecological aspects that require the collaboration and data sharing of multiple institutes and researchers. Joining knowledge and information from different study areas and research projects open up many perspectives for scientists at both global and local scale. The final goal is to produce knowledge and in particular to support a science-driven sustainable management of environmental resources and conservation. In a nutshell:
The activities of the project that underpin the intense and motivating collaboration between researchers based on the shared data and tools can be summarized as follow:
- Effectively store and archive roe deer location data across Europe
- Encourage collaborations to work on several aspects of animal ecology jointly
- Inspire discussions to identify research gaps
- Promote accessibility of large scale datasets to address research questions at multiple spatio-temporal scales, as approved by data owners
- Promote education of young researchers, particularly on topics related to data management, movement ecology and collaborative science
- Create a larger network of collaborations with other projects, scientific communities, environmental managers
- Promote an open approach to science, which include both data sharing and use and development of open source tools
What is specific to EURODEER is that the main goal is not to share data per se or to make them available to the general public but rather to create a scientific network to investigate biological aspects that can be disclosed only analyzing data coming from different study areas and with the support of field knowledge gained by researchers working with animals in different conditions. As a direct consequence, data store in the database are species specific and are not limited to tracking data. Additional information like capture, study area, population, management regimes etc. are not seen as metadata of tracking data but as proper data sets with lots of information standardized among groups. Ultimately, the database and related tools for data management and analysis, are one of the tools needed for collaborative science but it is not the final output of the project.
A bit of history
The EURODEER project had origin when 2 groups (Research and Innovation Centre, Fondazione Edmund Mach, Italy and Laboratoire de Biométrie et Biologie évolutive, Univ. C. Bernard Lyon 1, France) started to discuss common problems in GPS data management, while envisioning the advantages of data sharing on a common and efficient platform.
The experience gained at Edmund Mach Foundation through the project ISAMUD as considered the technical basis for the development of a new common software platform. Several other research groups soon indicated interest in joining the discussion on the opportunity of a common European roe deer data repository, and a common meeting in 2009 held at the Edmund Mach Foundation in Italy was the benchmark of such an innovative database.
At the moment, 29 research groups join the EURODEER project, and 22 contribute to the EURODEER spatial database with GPS, VHF and activity data and with specific knowledge on animal movement analysis.
The EURODEER team is working on a lot of activities to extend the network and improve the database in terms of both data and tools, while EURODEER partners are working on several projects to exploit the potentialities offered by the shared database. At the moment, our resources are focused on the following tasks:
- analyze data and produce science to advance knowledge on ecology of a large vertebrate species across a large range of its distribution;
- standardize data collection and analysis protocols, to enhance permanency of data and results;
- extend the EURODEER group to include new study areas in different environmental conditions and to take benefit form the experience gained by other research groups;
- include new GPS data in the database, as well as VHF and activity data, to offer a more robust sample of data that can be used for the analysis;
- enrich the tracking data with complex meta-information (e.g. individuals, populations, captures, hunting regimes) to enrich the interpretation of movement data;
- continue to integrate into the database European/global environmental data sets (e.g. MODIS NDVI, morphological parameters from digital elevation models, land cover, meteorological information both from meteo stations and remote sensed data) to analyze animal-borne data in their ecological context;
- searching for dedicated funding to give a long term perspective to the project;
- improve the technical skills of all participants in terms of database use and management to make more effective the use of the EURODEER platform;
- join a wider network of environmental repositories connecting (e.g. global and climate change, international e-infrastructure, multi-species tracking data repositories) to integrate wildlife tracking data in a broader environmental perspective;
- disseminate our experience, approach and tools to a wide scientific audience;
- disseminate results and derived information to the scientific community and to general public.
EURODEER is a dynamic project and we are all very open to new interesting perspectives and ways to explore the huge amount of data in the database. Any contribution and active participation to the project are very welcome! You are very welcome to contact us.