The Yellowstone to Yukon (Y2Y) migration corridor runs across 3,200 kilometers from western Wyoming, USA to the northern reaches of the Yukon, Canada. Following along the Rocky Mountains, this swath of land contains intact mountain, forest and grassland ecosystems and continues to support the movements of large mammals and migratory birds, such as grizzly bears, caribou, and golden eagles, that require free passage over large ranges and at specific areas across the region where they spend time during parts of the year, such as for migration and breeding. The Y2Y region is a mosaic of protected and unprotected land, including protected government parks, managed wildlands and national forests, Indigenous territories, privately managed conservation easements, as well as private property and infrastructure that are not maintained for conservation. The photograph above shows moose in Yellowstone National Park, at the southern end of the Y2Y (photo credit: Jacob W. Frank).
Our Ohio State-led project, Room to Roam: Y2Y Wildlife Movements, began in fall 2021. We will develop a common animal movement data archive for the Y2Y and build tools to improve wildlife management, evaluate the effectiveness of protected areas, assess migration and movement connectivity, and identify priority conservation strategies. Our team is a coalition of those building these tools—including quantitative ecologists, application developers, data managers, and outreach specialists—and those who will use them—wildlife and protected area managers, government and tribal agencies, ecologists, and groups promoting conservation within the region.
This project is funded through the NASA Ecological Forecasting Program (grant 80NSSC21K1182).
Through this project, our team will:
By implementing this project on platforms that are available worldwide, the tools we develop for this project will be freely available to support efforts within other migration corridors. The archive will support others in conducting large-scale, long-term, and multi-species analyses addressing critical research questions in support of wildlife management efforts in the region, contribute to biodiversity assessments, and provide a baseline against which to detect early signals of local or large-scale ecosystem changes.
Animal tracking for wildlife management
Why do wildlife managers track animals? How can data from animal-borne sensors be used for managing and conserving animal populations? And what are the challenges to making best use of this information? Here are some stories from our project partners.
Understanding the elusive sharp-shinned hawk
HawkWatch International, a non-profit organization dedicated to conserving raptors and the environments we share with them, is tracking sharp-shinned hawks to gain an understanding of their migratory movements and behaviors throughout the Y2Y region. In the past, this species' small size and elusiveness limited possibilities to learn about their movements throughout the year. In 2021, they were able to capture sharp-shinned hawks at fall migration sites across western North America and equip them with ICARUS transmitters.
The ICARUS Initiative is using mini-transmitters and a novel data transmission system to build a global collaborative network for monitoring animals and their environments. Technological advancements, such as smaller tag sizes, more efficient data transmission, and novel sensors that can be incorporated into tags, provide researchers and conservation groups with new opportunities to learn what animals are doing throughout the year and throughout their lives, in particular for small species.
Supporting efforts to reverse caribou population declines
The Chisana caribou herd, part of the Northern Mountain population of woodland caribou, has experienced a long and steady decline in population. From 2003 to 2006, the wildlife management agencies of Yukon and Alaska conducted a recovery effort designed to increase recruitment and calf survival.
Pregnant cows were captured and enclosed within a holding pen during the last weeks of gestation and a few weeks following calving. Tracking animals with collars allows the agencies to monitor the movements and fate of the caribou following their release.
Our project has launched as a partnership of government agencies, non profits, and universities:
- Center for Large Landscape Conservation
- Department of Environment, Government of Yukon
- Government of the Northwest Territories
- HawkWatch International
- Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior
- North Carolina State University
- The Ohio State University
- Teton Raptor Center
- University of Alberta
- University of Minnesota
- Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative
As we grow this project, we will invite other organizations, researchers and governments involved in wildlife management and conservation, or related decision making within the Y2Y region. To try out the free tools we are developing, register at Movebank and MoveApps—we will post sharable examples here as the project grows. We also welcome you to reach out to us directly to join. To learn more, contact the project's principal investigator, Professor Gil Bohrer.