Wednesday, June 22, 2011

TOPP Publishes in Nature

In 1999, a bold plan was laid out to establish a broad collaboration among biologists, oceanographers, engineers and computer scientists in the emerging field of “biologging” science.  At a workshop held at Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove, California, more than 50 people gathered and developed a program using electronic tags to simultaneously follow the migrations and behaviors of 23 different species of marine animals – including whales, seals, fishes, sharks, seabirds, turtles and even squid.  The scientsts’ vision was that, by following such a diverse group of animals all at the same time, and combining the observations in a common data system, it would be possible to gain new insights into the way the open ocean ecosystem of the North Pacific works.

After 10 years and more than 150 individual publications, the results of the combined Tagging of Pacific Predators (TOPP) dataset have been published in the journal Nature, in an article entitled, “Tracking apex marine predator movements in a dynamic ocean.”  This study shares the results of 265,386 “tracking days” of data from 23 different species.  It shows that there are ocean hotspots along North America’s West Coast, to which animals return year after year; and a trans-oceanic highway called the North Pacific Transition Zone connecting the eastern and western Pacific.  The study also demonstrates seasonality in the movements of many species, responding to regions of high productivity driven by seasonal patterns in ocean conditions.
The findings of this study provide a “proof of concept” for the use of biologging science to help understand broad patterns of habitat use in the oceans, which in turn can help resource managers and policy makers to more effectively manage the animal populations that live there.

To learn more about the study, you can read the press release here, or you can read the entire Nature paper here.