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Movement of Life

  • two oryx running through the desert

The Movement of Life Initiative is a Smithsonian-wide research and conservation program that was initiated by Peter Leimgruber at the Conservation Ecology Center (CEC) to advance research in movement ecology and conservation. The initiative has been recognized as one of the Smithsonian’s priority areas for pan-institutional research and projects. 

Movement (e.g. birds flying, whales migrating, seeds dispersing with the wind) is a fact of life. Organisms usually only stop moving when they are dead. Movement is also critical for survival of life on Earth, because it provides essential ecosystem services (e.g. seed dispersal, connecting isolated populations) and shapes the evolution and distribution of biodiversity. Understanding movement is vital for biodiversity research, predicting conservation hotspots, identifying human-animal conflict zones, rebuilding and sustaining productive fisheries and ecosystems, understanding the spread of pandemic disease and invasive species, and planning sustainable economic development.

The Movement of Life Initiative seeks to develop the science, technology, analytical tools and models to conserve and manage movement as a critical process for maintaining biodiversity and a healthy biosphere. By working with a global network of scientists and partners, the initiative advances research on the how the movement of diverse marine, aquatic, terrestrial and aerial organisms helps to maintain healthy ecosystems and their biodiversity. Through partnership programs with the private sector, such as Partners in the Sky, the initiative pursues the development of better, more affordable and accessible technology for tracking animals (e.g. miniaturized tracking devices), with the audacious goal of being able to “track any animal, anywhere in the world, for its entire lifetime”. Based on science, technology, and data from these efforts, Smithsonian scientists and their partners develop new and advanced mathematical analysis and modeling tools to better understand movement process and their consequences and to model changes in movement resulting from environmental change in the future.

The Movement of Life Initiative builds on existing and ongoing movement research at the CEC (e.g. scimitar-horned oryx reintroduction, Asian elephant conservation project), the Smithsonian and partner institutions. It also supports a collaborative capacity-building program in movement ecology, called AniMove, which is supported by the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Bayreuth University, the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and many other partners.