Large-scale spatial analysis of ringing and re-encounter data to infer movement patterns: A review including methodological perspectives



  1. A major aim of bird ringing is to provide information about the migration and movements of bird populations. However, in comparison with demographic studies, little research has been devoted to improving quantitative inferences through large-scale spatial analyses. This represents a serious knowledge gap because robust information on geographical linkages of migratory populations throughout the annual cycle is necessary to understand the ecology and evolution of migrants and for the conservation and management of populations.
  2. Here, we review recent developments and emerging opportunities for the quantitative study of movements of bird populations based on marked birds. Large-scale spatial analyses of ringing data need to account for spatiotemporal variation in re-encounter probability and the complexity of movement processes, including variability among individuals and populations in migration direction and distance.
  3. We identify seven recent studies that used quantitative methods for large-scale spatial analyses of ringing and re-encounter data gathered by national ringing centres. In most cases, numbers ringed and recovered in a series of source and destination areas were used to derive estimates of the proportion of each source population travelling to each destination area. Where recovery data were sparse, precision was improved by incorporating information on re-encounter probabilities of similar species. When numbers ringed were not available, inferences could sometimes be drawn based on local recapture data from the source areas.
  4. Studies to date illustrate that analyses of these large-scale ringing data sets can provide robust quantitative inferences. Further work is needed to develop these modelling approaches and to test their sensitivity to key assumptions using both real and simulated data. Data for all birds that were marked, not only those re-encountered, are often inaccessible and should be computerised in parallel with analytical developments. Further, there is great potential for the formal combination of re-encounter data with information from additional data sources such as counts and detailed movement data from radiotracking or data loggers. Because data from bird ringing operations cover long periods of time and exist in large quantities, they hold great promise for inferring spatiotemporal migration patterns, including changes in relation to climate, land use change and other environmental drivers.