Tracking of Predators

Marine vertebrate predators play a key role in shaping the structure, distribution and abundance of prey populations

European Tracking of Predators in the Atlantic

 EUTOPIA is an international project within the European Census of Marine Life ( to describe and understand the movements and behaviour of marine vertebrates in relation to environment by identifying behavioural rules to aid prediction of the scope and extent of species re-distributions in response to natural and human-driven environmental changes.

EUTOPIA Executive Committee

Dr David Sims, chair, Marine Biological Association of the UK, The Laboratory, Citadel Hill, Plymouth PL1 2PB, UK. Tel: 01752 633227. E-mail:

Dr Julian Metcalfe, Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, Lowestoft Laboratory, Pakefield Road, Lowestoft NR33 0HT, UK. Email:

Dr David Grémillet, Centre d’Ecologie et Physiologie Energétiques, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 67087 Strasbourg, France. Email:

Dr Leif Nøttestad, Institute of Marine Research, P.O. Box 1870, Nordnes 5817 Bergen, Norway. Email:


Marine vertebrate predators play a key role in shaping the structure, distribution and abundance of prey populations, which in turn has important consequences for the functioning of ecosystems. Characteristically, large predators such as pelagic fish, sea turtles, birds and mammals search widely for resources and concentrate activity in productive habitats with associated high biodiversity. As such, they have the potential through their movement and behaviour patterns to signal wider-scale changes in marine ecosystem status. Shifts in the availability of lower-trophic-level resources or community structure are likely to lead to concomitant alterations in spatial distribution and abundance of predators. Given that key habitats they occupy during their journeys may be affected differentially by both climate change and fishing exploitation, a knowledge of top predator movements, activity and habitat selection in relation to variations in physical and biotic environments and human activity will help resolve how natural and anthropogenic changes affect marine populations.

Currently there is a lack of understanding about where marine top predators go, what they do when they get there, and, crucially, why they select particular habitats over others at certain times. This knowledge gap is particularly wide for important species in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, such as sharks, seabirds and baleen whales for example, despite the availability of good-quality environmental data in these areas. Understanding the ‘why’ question is possible if the behavioural processes, or decision criteria, underpinning observed movements across dynamic ocean landscapes can be identified.


The principal aim of the EUTOPIA programme is to conduct a large-scale, long-term multi-faceted research campaign in the Atlantic and Mediterranean to elucidate the movements and behaviour of ecologically unique, wide-ranging marine vertebrate predators. The primary aim is to determine how these species view and utilise key habitats in the ocean, such as fronts, and how movements, and consequently spatial abundance and distribution patterns may alter in response to environmental change. The key focus of EUTOPIA is to determine behavioural ‘rules’ underlying movements in relation to dynamic changes in habitat quality, identify essential habitats or ‘hot spots’, whether there are similar (general) behaviour patterns among diverse marine vertebrates, how these are linked to environment, and how a knowledge of this can be used to develop predictive spatial-population models relevant to conservation and fisheries management.


EUTOPIA objectives

(1) Determine the movement and behaviour patterns of diverse marine vertebrate predators – sharks, teleosts, sea turtles, seabirds, seals and cetaceans – across multiple space-time scales using state-of-the-art telemetry technology

(2) Investigate the relationships between the structure of movement trajectories and changes in environmental fields [phytoplankton, zooplankton, SST, sea height (altimetry)] to identify the spectrum of animal-environment interactions

(3) Identify ecologically important habitat using individual-based location data and test whether dynamic spatial-distribution patterns among diverse predators are consistently linked to ocean productivity ‘hot spots’

(4) Determine the behavioural mechanisms (“rules”) underlying observed multi-scale movements and assess general features of behaviour across species and different life stages by applying novel analytical tools with a strong emphasis on multi-scale random walks and state-space modelling

(5) Undertake model simulations of how the spatial distribution of diverse predators under different environmental change and exploitation scenarios shifts in relation to short- and long-term fluctuations in environmental fields.

(6) Communicate the findings and consequences to the wider community through outreach activities based on an interactive website and a schools programme

EUTOPIA Implementation

EUTOPIA is a network of collaborating research groups throughout six countries within Europe. It is governed by Executive and Steering Committees which co-ordinate and implement activities through meetings, workshops, funding proposals and publications.

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