Harnessing the potential of weather surveillance radar to monitor waterbirds in Australia

Project: HDR ProjectPhD

Project Details


Weather surveillance radars are permanent radars designed to scan the airspace to detect and quantify precipitation. Using electromagnetic waves these systems frequently scan the airspace (every 4-10 minutes) to determine the location, density, and movement of weather systems around a radar. Individual radars cover large areas (up to 512km) and are typically part of a larger interconnected network. Due to their indiscriminate scanning method, ecologists can repurpose the data they collect to detect the movement and distribution patterns of a variety of flying animals. Biological data captured by weather radars is allowing ecologists and wildlife managers to study migratory patterns, evaluate management interventions and improve our understanding of the animal movement. However, the data collected by these systems are rarely utilised in Australia. The aim of my thesis was to improve the uptake of weather radar data for ecological research in Australia, with a particular focus on aggregating waterbird populations. The proposed outcomes were (1) identify limiting factors for repurposing radar data in Australia, (2) highlight potential applications for waterbird conservation and management, and (3) provide a way forward for increasing the use of these data in the future. In this thesis, I reviewed the current literature and infrastructure in the Southern Hemisphere and identified the factors currently limiting its use for ecological research in the region. I then focussed on the Australian context, using the Magpie Goose (Anseranus semipalmata) population in Northern Australia as a case study. I assessed the detectability of this species on a local weather radar and the availability of data for the population on the Australian network. I then quantified the distribution and movement of this population using weather surveillance radar and compared the results with aerial survey data and satellite biotelemetry. The results of my research suggest that there are still significant limitations to the availability of radar data in Australia. However, improvements to the accessibility of these data have made it a viable option for wildlife applications. I found that weather radar can detect large aggregations of Magpie Geese, and the resulting data can improve traditional survey techniques and our understanding of the movement ecology of this species. My thesis provides the first example of weather surveillance radar being used to monitor a bird population in Australia. I believe this research fills an important gap in current radar ecology literature and provides a stepping stone to further reducing the geographic bias in this field.
Effective start/end date3/01/177/03/22


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