University of Oklahoma researchers are part of a growing cross-disciplinary collaboration that seeks to tap the potential of radar technologies to advance aeroecology--a field that integrates atmospheric science, earth science, geography, ecology, computer science, computational biology and engineering.
According to Phillip Chilson, professor in the OU School of Meteorology and Atmospheric Radar Research Center, radar technologies have the potential for detecting and monitoring organisms in the aerosphere, which requires a greater understanding of biology within the radar community and a familiarity of radar products among ecologists.
"Recent advances in radar hardware and signal processing methodologies coupled with innovations in computer and networking technologies have presented us with many opportunities for biological studies that were not available in the past five years," notes Chilson.
Jeffrey Kelly, professor in the OU Department of Zoology and Oklahoma Biological Survey, studies animal migration and is particularly interested in using radar data as a measure of the phenology of animal movements and aggregations, such as those of the purple martins.
"We have known for a long time that radio waves scattered from flying organisms (bioscatter) are detected by weather radars, but we have yet to harness the capacity of weather detection radars for biological research," says Chilson.
Kenneth Howard, NOAA scientist in the National Severe Storms Laboratory, has played an integral role in this collaboration by creating a suite of visualization and analytical tools for understanding biological patterns of bioscatter across the continental United States.
"Investigating behavior and ecology of airborne organisms in the aerosphere presents significant challenges and requires collaboration across multiple scientific disciplines to utilize technological advances for increasing ecological understanding," states Winifred F. Frick, a researcher at the University of California in Santa Cruz and organizer of the AAAS aeroecology symposium.
Ecologists must discover the best methods for detecting the presence, taxonomic identity, diversity and activity of organisms that use this aerial environment; identify ways to integrate relevant environmental variables at different temporal and spatial scales; and determine how best to understand and interpret behavioral, ecological and evolutionary responses of organisms in the context of complex meteorological conditions and patterns within natural and anthropogenically-altered environments.
"Appropriate integration of diverse tools and concepts for probing into the lives of organisms aloft are necessary for informed ecological and evolutionary concepts and management decisions associated with the spread of invasive species, emergence of infectious diseases, altered biodiversity, and the sustainability of terrestrial, aquatic and atmospheric environments," said Thomas H. Kunz, professor of biology and director of the Center of Ecology and Conservation Biology at Boston University and the opening symposium speaker.