Max Planck-Yale Center Projects

Ongoing Projects:


Movement data integration within Map of Life

This project involves developing infrastructure and user interface updates to support the integration of animal movementment within Map of Life. This will allow the visualization of movement data within the context of other biodiversity data.


Digital Museum of Animal Lives

Near-real time tracking offers the potential to engage society broadly in the digital documentation of tracked animals’ lives and promote understanding of the growing challenges to their survival. The platform will allow users to explore animal’s trajectories as well as support aggregate products summarizing their behavior and space use.


Borrowing strength between species to advance species distribution knowledge

Recent advances in species distribution modeling have enabled ecologists to make predictions about multiple species simultaneously, which may allow models to borrow strength between data rich and poor species. The MPYC hosted a virtual workshop of SDM and MSDM experts to brainstorm collectively about potential existing or future solutions to this shortcoming of MSDM research which resulted in a perspective piece currently in preparation.


Estimating local population abundance from movement data

Spatially explicit cross-taxa estimates of local population abundance are critical for conservation planning. MPYC researchers used animal tracking data combined with local environmental data to estimate population-specific home-range size and abundance across taxa and integrates these estimates into spatial conservation prioritization schemes.

Contribution of animal movement to global biodiversity data

Protecting biodiversity in the face of rapid, ongoing environmental change requires detailed understanding of species’ distributions, movements, and habitat preferences. MPYC researchers are assessing the contribution of animal movement data in closing global biodiversity data gaps.

Animals as environmental sensors

Global descriptions of meteorological conditions and environmental variation are key to understanding and projecting the health of our plant. However, meteorological data remains highly geographically biased. Due to recent advances in sensor technology, animal tracking devices can now provide fine scale measurements of meteorological variables, thus potentially turning wild animals into mobile weather sensors. MPYC researchers are demonstrating the potential for animals to act as “biological buoys” observing our planet’s climate.

1000 Cranes: transforming our understanding of the lives of an enigmatic group of species

Cranes are some of the most endangered but also enigmatic species of large birds. The MPYC has started to replace the 100-year-old bird banding tradition with a novel banding approach. Juvenile cranes of all 15 species are now receiving electronic flight recorders that communicate where, when and why they live and die. This information provides novel ecological information on animal culture within and among populations as well as essential conservation knowledge. Currently, the two MPYC hubs are teaming up to analyze the individual tracking data from Movebank by linking them to environmental features provided by the Map of Life. This is a globally unique data set and provides a transformation of how traditional avian ecologists collaborate beyond state and continental boundaries. The data will help to predict the movement patterns and survival probabilities of cranes and other species.

Effects of pandemic-related changes in human behavior on mobile organisms

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has led to an unprecedented alterations in human activity, termed the “Anthropause”. While globally devastating, associated changes in human activity offer a unique opportunity to disentangle anthropogenic impacts on wildlife and develop a general, predictive framework of human-wildlife interactions in ways not previously possible. As founding members of the International Biologging Society’s COVID-19 Initiative, the MPYC has formed a global collaboration of scientists studying wildlife activity before and during the Anthropause across the marine and terrestrial realms. To date, the Initiative has aggregated hundreds of relevant animal movement datasets, received initial funding support from the Moore Foundation and National Geographic Society, and has applied for endorsement by the UN Decade of Ocean Science. The Initiative has also resulted in an article published in Nature Ecology & Evolution. In addition to supporting and engaging in broader Initiative goals, we at the MPYC are driving forward research addressing human-wildlife interactions in terrestrial birds and mammals as well as methodological advances in incorporating novel human mobility datasets. The overarching goal of this project is to provide mechanistic understanding of wildlife responses to myriad dimensions of anthropogenic activity, disentangling infrastructure and land use impacts from direct impacts of human presence. This work has the potential to lend unique insight into how animals navigate our increasingly modified world, addressing key goals of the MPYC. Read more about the project here.

Complete Projects:

Spatiotemporal Observation Annotation Tool (STOAT)

The Spatiotemporal Observation Annotation Tool (STOAT) is a cloud-based environmental annotation platform that addresses these limitations to provide flexible and large-scale biodiversity-environment annotation services. Developed with support from NASA, STOAT is optimized for large biodiversity datasets and allows user-specified spatial and temporal grains (buffers) in support of environmental characterizations that account for the uncertainty and scale of data and of relevant processes. The tool includes a growing set of high-resolution remote sensing data from Earth-orbiting sensors (including LANDSAT, MODIS, CHELSA, and others) at native resolution and provides user-friendly tools for annotation task management and result. STOAT conducts all annotations in the cloud, obviating the need for users to download and manage complex and computationally expensive remote sensing resources. STOAT lowers technical barriers of entry for the use of remote sensing layers, and enables versatile and scalable annotations beyond those previously available in comparable tools. STOAT is available at , and is also implemented as a R package (rstoat) for programmatic access. 

CHELSA-EarthEnv precipitation product

In order to enable an improved characterization of environmentally driven spatiotemporal biodiversity dynamics we developed a daily, 1km resolution and near-global precipitation product. The presented CHELSA-EarthEnv daily precipitation product improves the temporal accuracy compared to ERA5 and offers high spatial accuracy and better representation of precipitation in complex terrain. It is available at



Hypervolume-based niche characterizations

Quantifying species environmental niches is critical to many ecological studies, however doing so is complicated by computational limits and sensitivity to dimensionality. This new framework allows for quantifying n-dimensional niches for species by avoiding many previous issues. Read the related publication here.


Integrating biodiversity data types for species’ range models

 Biodiversity observations are becoming available at an unprecedented rate through citizen science observations, animal movement data, digitized museum specimens, and remotely sensed species observations, among other sources. As these data sources grow, estimating species distributions for many taxa at fine spatial and temporal resolutions may become possible in ways that have thus far only been feasible over small extents. We developed a flexible framework that can incorporate many different data types in a unified model to estimate species abundance and distribution patterns, while overcoming potentially small or biased samples for many species.

Individual niche variation

Individual variation is increasingly recognized as a central component of ecological processes, but its role in structuring environmental niche associations remains largely unknown. By examining environmental associations for 45 white storks based on their movements, MPYC researchers revealed high variability in individual niche associations as well as strong consistency of individuals across time. Read the paper in Nature Communications here, and blog post here.

Spatial scale of individual space use

Identifying the scale at which individuals perceive and respond to their environment is critical for accurate characterization of species niches. MPYC researchers discovered that animal selection for environmental conditions occurs at multiple scales.

Backcasting bird migrations

Migration is a widespread response in birds to seasonally varying climates. As seasonality is particularly pronounced during interglacial periods, this raises the question of the significance of bird migration during past periods with different patterns of seasonality. MPYC researchers simulated bird migration over the past 50,000 years and showed that migration has persisted throughout Earth’s glacial cycles. Read the article in Nature Communications here, and the YaleNews coverage here.

Animal tracking data moves community ecology

Following the 2019 MPYC symposium on “Linking individual behaviour to community responses in changing landscapes”, a subgroup of participants formulated and constructed a perspective on how to link variation in individual behavior to questions in community ecology.