[Fellow Talk] Animal ecology, concerns the planet, and yourselves as well.

Francesca Cagnacci is a behavioral and conservation ecologist who makes the use of tracking GPS on migrating ungulates -among other fascinating parts of her work- a cause that concerns everybody. In this interview she introduces few aspects of the complex research and field work that she contributes to, wearing several hats and placing inderdisciplinarity at the service of conservation purposes.


You’re a behavioral and conservation ecologist, how does the extensive work that you produce reply to current environmental crises?
 
When I started my career a few years ago, it seemed possible to consider animal behaviour in pristine environments as the reference, and animal responses to anthropic interference as the exception. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case. Human impact is pervasive and widespread across the Earth.
 
By understanding the processes underpinning animals' behaviour, we investigate their responses to climate and global change. Our goal is to assess the resilience of ecosystems to these threats and, where possible, to identify mitigation measures and suggest better human practices.
 
And does your work involve at any stage policymakers who hold the decision-making processes when it comes to wildlife preservation?
 
While the work of a researcher is separate from the actions of managers and policy makers, we try to disseminate our work as much as we can. When possible, we partner with management and conservation organisations that can, on the one side, help us identify priorities of research and, in turn, get immediate access to our recommendations based on scientific results.
 
This is for example the case of the Global Initiative on Ungulate Migration (GIUM), where a group of experts in animal movement partners with the Convention of Migratory Species at the Environmental Protection chapter of the United Nation (UNEP). After disseminating their aims to the scientific community (learn more), GIUM gathered on May 23 and 24 2022, at the Institute for Advanced Study of Aix-Marseille University (IMERA), to concretely plan the next steps to achieve their main output, the Global Atlas of Ungulate Migration (more about the event).
 
Early in your research work, you’ve employed new technologies at the service of your research, what and how did it advance this work both theoretically and practically ?
 
Since the onset of modern science with Galileo and his telescope, advances in science and technology have been tightly linked. In animal ecology, scientists do not address questions in controlled setting, such as in laboratory studies, rather they address the extreme complexity of environmental conditions. Animal ecology could undergo a big leap, becoming a way more 'quantitative' science, by measuring in a standardised and reproducible way animal and environmental variables. For example, we study animal movement by means of GPS-based sensors fitted on individual animals (a technique collectively known as 'bio-logging'), and we link those movement paths to environmental conditions through satellites¹.
 
Your residency as an IMERA Fellow, delves into what could be a “New Resilience Model to Global Change”, at what stage is your research work and can you give us an overview of this new model?
 
Because ecosystems dynamics and human activities are today profoundly intertwined, ecological knowledge should also be based on a better understanding of the human processes. The challenge I decided to undertake here at IMERA is  to reconcile lines of research in ecology and environmental economics, especially expanding the 'overlapping' zone to the acquisition of Big Data in both disciplines. The 2EcoChange experts workshop which also took place at IMERA on May 12 and 13, allowed to lay out directions of common research and improved exchange between Ecology and Economics.
 
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Francesca Cagnacci is Senior researcher in Animal Ecology at Fondazione Edmund Mach, Research and Innovation Centre (FEM/CRI), Trento, Italy - Holder of the IMERA/IRD chair on sustainable development. You can visite her profile and learn more about her research project here.
 
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Photo credits:
Francesca Cagnacci holding a satellite radio collar, photo credit: Fondazione Edmund Mach
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