Databasing Migratory Species

Seasonal migrations are observed within a wide variety of animals, such as grazing mammals, bats, whales and dolphins, seals, birds, turtles, fish and insects. The number of migratory species can only be estimated around 5,000 species, including approximately 1,000 fish species. The "Global Register of Migratory Species" contains a first list of 2,880 migratory vertebrate species in digital format, together with their threat status according to the International Red List 2000, and digital maps for circa 800 species. Maps are compatible with any geographical information system (GIS), which allows geographic queries and threat analysis by intersection with other GIS layers (examples are included on the GROMS CD). The book contains first results from a global analysis of threat status, maps for 90 species in printed format, and a complete printed list of migratory mammals, birds and reptiles.

The Global Register of Migratory Species (GROMS) summarizes our state of knowledge about migratory species. It consists of a relational database connected to a Geographical Information System (GIS). GROMS supports the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and will serve both scientific as well as conservational goals, trying to bridge existing gaps.

Knowledge about migratory species:
Migratory species as defined by CMS include: "the entire population or any geographically separate part of the population of any species or lower taxon of wild animals, a significant proportion of whose members cyclically and predictably cross one or more national jurisdictional boundaries;"
which is close to the biological concept of "true migration" (Dingle 1980), to be used by GROMS.

To include migration within large range states, a minimal migration distance of >100 km is chosen, small-scale migration (e.g. amphibians) will not be included.
The table shows the heterogeneous state of knowledge for approximately 4000 species, to be considered as "True migrants".

GROUP Sources Information status Taxonomy appr. number of True Migrants
Mammals   very good - bad Wilson & Reeder max. 600
Bats journals

local ringing (on file)

Medium - bad


large whales journals, reports very good- medium    
small whales journals, reports Medium - bad    
Pinnipedia journals, reports good - bad    
Ruminants journals, reports good - bad    
Birds Handbooks (regional) very good - medium Sibley & Monroe max. 2000
  local ringing databases


  Internet sites Medium    
Turtles journals, monitoring

programs, Internet sites

Medium   7
Fish FishBase (CD)

Internet sites

very good - bad

very good

Eschmeyer 800
Invertebrates journals good - bad   500

The literature database BIOSIS and the WWW were searched to assess the present state of knowledge. Online information for most endangered species is provided by databases maintained by the World Conservation Monitoring Center (WCMC), the US Wildlife and Fisheries Service and several other organisations, mostly in HTML-Format. In addition, extensive species reports are compiled by IUCN specialists groups or consultants for CMS. For birds and bats, regional ringing databases contain a wealth of information, but provide limited access (f.e., EURING or ÉPOQ-database in Quebec, containing 2 million entries since 1950: Cyr & Larivée 1993).

A comprehensive electronical database exists for fish (FishBase: Froese & Pauly 1997), available on CD-ROM. Up to now, FishBase does not include information on migration. GROMS will cooperate with FishBase. As a first result the migratory status has been assessed, using major reviews and handbooks.

Migratory status of fish

unknown 16561          
non-migratory 1087          
migratory 741 109 35 10 88 499
    ana- cata- limno- potamo- oceanodromous 

Note the high number of fish species with unknown migratory status. More detailled literature searches are planned to improve our knowledge about this category.

Why Another Database?

The ideal solution would be an open meta-database architecture, but:

  • only some regional databases include geographic information, in different formats
  • connecting databases rises problems of intellectual property rights.
  • Therefore, GROMS required a thematic database design from the scratch.

    The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals

    ...- also known as CMS or the Bonn Convention - aims to conserve terrestrial, marine and avian migratory species throughout their range. It is an intergovernmental treaty of global scale.

    Maps and GIS

    Geographic information about species distributions exists in a huge variety of forms, not necessarily visualized as maps.

    Most data are point data, which are often summarized as a distribution area. Especially in birds, quantitative information is entered into cells of grids (raster data). Major mapping endeavours exist for Australia (ERIN), for North American birds, and some economically relevant fish species. The WORLDMAP project charts biodiversity within grids (1).The Biological Conservation Information System Inititatíve (BCIS) tries to coordinate mapping endeavours for conservation.

    Most Internet sites present invariant maps as picture files, but the most interesting way is to generate interactive maps "on the fly", generated by a map server. Few Interent sites provid this possibility: the ERIN server in Australia, generates point distribution data, Streamorg generates fish distributions for British Columbia.

    GROMS will standardize maps in vector format.

    Vector formats consume less computer storage resources and can easily be transformed to different projections or exported to other GIS-projects, to cover further aspects relevant for conservation.

    Database architecture

    The database combines a relational database and a Geographic Information System (GIS).

    It will be published as CD-ROM and on the Internet as a thin client - fat server design. Vectorized maps are generated "on the fly", at the moment of request. Maps are interactive, and information from the database can be retrieved by clicking to certain map sites.

    The core of the database is the population table, because

  • populations within one species exhibit different migratory behaviour.
  • Populations are the managing unit for conservation and stable with respect to taxonomic changes.
  • It summarizes basic information such as population size, threats, regional conventions, etc. and links to geographical information such as maps of "wintering" and "breeding" grounds or aggreagation areas. All this information is fully referenced via the connection with the reference table (Jointab_Lit). At the other end, the population is connected with the respective species, and the species table is nested hierarchically with tables about higher taxa (parent taxa).

    The connection to the GIS is provided by common fields between GIS attribute tables and the database..

    From Knowledge to Conservation

    GROMS brings together information sources from basic research and conservation, making them mutually available to the respective communities.

    Tables relevant for conservation are:

  • Threats to species and to habitats,
  • conservation treaties and action plans
  • organisations and specialists
  • Hot spots
  • Hot spots are aggregation areas such as staging posts or breeding grounds for birds, bat wintering caves or any other area where a major percentage of a population aggregates in high concentration. Threats to hot spots affect the entire population, and therefore have to be documented carefully by linking to the respective tables.

    Further analysis is possible by linking hot spots to other GIS layers. For example, upstram spawning areas of diadromous fish could be overlaid with planned river dams.

    Users and Partners

    The most critical step in designing an information management strategy is to define clearly who the intended users are and what their specific information needs will be (Olivierie et al., 1995)

    GROMS is funded for three years by the German government (Federal ministry of environment), as a cooperation between the Zoological Research Institute and Museum Alexander Koenig and the University of Bonn. The University provides special support by the newly founded Center of Development Research (ZEF), and a close cooperation with the Geographical Insititute has been initiated.

    Various scientists and institutions cooperate with GROMS, among them FishBase and Wetlands International. GROMS is going to harmonize with database standards as given by the World Conservation Monitoring Center (WCMC) and the Biological Conservation Information System (BCIS). Feedback is given by future users testing prototypes of the database. The database will be available on the Internet and on CD-ROM ath the end of the year 2000.


  • Cyr, A., & Larivée, J. (1993) In D. M. Finch & P. W. Stangel (Eds.), Status and management of Neotropical migratory birds (U.S. Forest Serv.Gen.Tech.Rept. RM-229), pp. 229-236. Fort Collins: U.S. Department of Agriculture.
  • Dingle, H. (1980) In S. A. J. Gauthreaux (Ed.), Animal migration, orientation and homing, pp. 1-103. New York: Academic Press.
  • Froese, R., & Pauly, D. (eds.) (1996). FishBase 96: concepts, design and data sources. Manila, Philippines: ICLARM.
  • Olivieri, S., Harrison, J., & Busby, J. R. (1995) In V. H. Heywood & R. T. Watson (Eds.), Global biodiversity assessment, pp. 607 - 670. Cambridge: University Press

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