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Turtle Movement Ecology and Health:

Using Google Earth to visualize the St. Louis Box Turtle Project data
available on Movebank
By Cassandra Galluppi and Dr. Steve Blake

Knowing how animals move can give us great power to answer questions related to
population dynamics, health, and conservation. By attaching high frequency radio
tags to box turtles, the researchers with the St. Louis Box Turtle Project can
frequently track and find the tagged turtles, taking GPS points of their location to
create a map of the turtles movements throughout time.
To learn more about the St. Louis Box Turtle Project, watch this explanatory video
featuring the primary investigators at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?
In this tutorial, you will access their actual data set on Movebank, a website that
houses many real data sets provided by movement ecologists across the globe, and
visualize the turtles paths in Google Earth to explore questions about box turtle
habitat use and health in Forest Park (an urban park) and Tyson Research Center (a
more rural field station).
A video tutorial for visualizing the St. Louis Box Turtle Project data in Google Earth is
available on the Projects Facebook page at:
https://www.facebook.com/StLouisBoxTurtleProject/videos/534952536565664/. This
video was produced by high school interns working on the project. Make sure to
view the video in HD by mousing over the player and clicking the HD button in the
bottom right corner.
Make sure you have Google Earth Pro on your computer
In order to interact with the data from Movebank, you must have Google Earth
downloaded on your computer, and in order to make polygons to look at home
ranges, you must have Google Earth Pro (which is now free).
To get Google Earth Pro, go to
https://www.google.com/earth/explore/products/desktop.html and scroll down. Click
Download Google Earth Pro, then click the Agree and Download button under
the terms of service on the next page. Once the application has downloaded, open it
to run the setup (Windows) or installer (Mac).
When Google Earth Pro opens, it requires a license key. Enter your email and
GETPFREE as the password to sign in. You should only have to do this once. If you
previously had Google Earth on your computer, we recommend uninstalling it so
that the data you download will not automatically open in Google Earth instead of
Getting the data from Movebank

To access the data, go to www.movebank.org in your browser. At the top of the

page, there is a toolbar; click Tracking Data Map to the right of the Home option.
This will bring you to a page where you can search for specific data sets.
In order to access the data for the St. Louis Box Turtle Project, type St. Louis Box
Turtle Project into the search bar, then press the enter key or click search. The data
set will come up in the box below the search bar (it has been underlined with red in
the image below).

Click the + to the left of the data set title to expand the data. This allows you to
see each turtles data points individually. The number in the [n=] brackets tells you
how many data points are available for that turtle.
You can choose to download data from either a single turtle or all of the turtles into
Google Earth. To do so, click the i to the right of whichever turtle you want to
download or to the right of the entire St. Louis Box Turtle Project data set (a box has
been drawn around that button below), then click Download search result. For this
activity, download the entire data set.
In the box that comes up, you can choose what kind of file to download the data as
by clicking one of the circles next to the options. Choose the one next to
GoogleEarth (Tracks) (underlined below), then click Download.

Your computer might ask you to confirm opening the file with Google Earth Pro, or
you might need to find Pro on your hard drive to direct the download to open there.
Viewing the data in Google Earth Pro
When Google Earth Pro opens, it will automatically show the data points you have
Minimize the tour guide window on the bottom of the map by clicking the arrows in
the upper left corner to give yourself more space to work with.
You might notice that if you zoom in, the camera tilts. This can be a problem when
trying to work with the data. To turn off this function, click Tools (Windows) or
Google Earth Pro (Mac) in the toolbar at the top of your computer screen, then
click Options (Windows) or Preferences (Mac) in the menu that comes up. Click
the Navigation tab in the new window, then select the bubble next to Do not
automatically tilt while zooming, then click OK. You should only have to do this

In the Places window on the left side of the program, you will see the data set
within the Temporary Places folder.

Click the triangle to the left of the data set to expand it. You can now see
every turtle individually.

Double-clicking on a turtles name will zoom the map in to that data set.
Some turtles have multiple data sets. This is because their tags had to be
switched out, and the information from the new tag started a new data set.

In order to better visualize the data, you can change the colors of the
points and lines to match across data sets for the same turtle. To do
this, expand the data set by clicking the triangle to the left of the
turtles name, right click on their Points or Line, Click on
Properties (Windows) or Get info (Mac) at the bottom of the list, Go
to the Style/Color tab, click the colored box, choose the color you
want, then click OK on the color change window and on the
Properties window to make the changes.

If you do change point and line colors, be aware of the colors of other
turtles in the area. Changing a turtles colors and making them too
close to an overlapping turtles colors can be more confusing than
having two different colors for the same turtle.

Unchecking the checkbox next to a turtles name will remove that data set
from the map, and checking the box will make it visible again.

Double click on data set title St. Louis Box Turtle Project to see the entire data set.
The eastern cluster of points represents the Forest Park turtles, and the western
cluster represents the Tyson Research Center turtles.

Tyson Research Center Turtles

Captain Ahab

Forest Park Turtles

Dani Girl
Spring Equinox

Viewing a single turtle

Lets look more closely at just one turtle. In order to quickly deselect all of the
turtles, uncheck the box next to the St. Louis Box Turtles data set, then manually
check the box of only the turtle that you want to see. For this example, lets pick
Esteban, one of the Forest Park turtles. Check the box next to Esteban to make his
data set visible, then double click his name to zoom in.
To improve our ability to see his path, look in the Layers box in the bottom-left
corner of the window. If the 3D Buildings box is checked, uncheck it. You should
now see a flat landscape, and the 3D trees will not block the path. You can also
choose to uncheck fields like Photos and Places, which can clutter the view.
To zoom in more on the data points, mouse over the right side of the window. Use
the slider to zoom in or out, and the other tools to move your window and angle of
vision. You want to change the angle so that you are looking straight at the ground
with no tilt.

Animation of the turtles path

The bar at the top of the map is the animation slider, and it can be used to see the
path the turtle took by playing the GPS points in sequence through time.
First drag the slider all the way to the left, so only the first data point is
Second, click the wrench on the upper right of the slider, which opens up the
date and time settings. At the bottom of the settings, there is an option to
change the animation speed. Set the speed to be on the slower side so that
you can see what is happening when the animation runs, then click OK.
If you want the animation to repeat in a loop, check the box under the
Animation speed option that says Loop animation.
Above the slider on the left-hand side, there are four icons. Click the one on
the far right, a button that looks like a clock with an arrow next to it, to play
the animation.

The result will be a display of Estebans path through time. As the slider moves, it
will display the date that the point was taken.
There is another movable piece on the timeline to the left of the slider. It looks like a
bent line that has a bit of an arrow shape to it. That piece follows the slider and
erases the points from view as the animation runs. Changing the distance
between it and the slider determines how wide a time period you are viewing at any
given time.
You can manually set the eraser by dragging it a certain distance behind the
slider. If you would like for only one point to be displayed at a time, drag the
eraser to the slider.
You can also change the start and end time in the menu where you change
the animation speed, which you get to by clicking on the wrench in the upper
right corner of the animation timeline tool.
Using this tool can help you understand the turtles movements over a period of
time. For example, putting the eraser a month behind the slider and then playing
the animation allows you to see the range the turtle traveled in any given month
because the GPS points stay on the screen.
Step Lengths
The distance a turtle travels between data points is called a step length. Step
lengths can be used to gauge activity of the turtles at different times of the year;
longer step lengths indicate more active turtles, while shorter step lengths indicate
less activity. Among other things, step lengths can be used to answer questions like
Does a turtle move more in certain seasons than in others? which is what you are
going to do in this activity.
To calculate step length for Esteban, make sure data points and line are both
checked under his name on the left window (they should be by default). The first
step length we are going to calculate will be for spring 2013, right after he woke up
from hibernation.

Click the arrow next to Points under Esteban to open the drop-down menu
displaying all of the data points that have ever been taken for him.
Uncheck the box next to Points to deselect all of the points.
Scroll down to and check the points 2013-04-05 and 2013-04-24.
Adjust the animation slider so that the slider is all the way to the right and
the eraser is all the way to the left. This should make those two points visible
on the map.

To calculate the distance between these two points, click on the ruler icon at the top
of your toolbar.
Go into the Line tab.
Make sure the units are set to meters.
Click on your two points. A line will be drawn between them, and the ruler
window will calculate the distance between them in meters (map length).

Repeat this process in order to fill in the table for the dates listed, then answer the
questions that follow.

Date range
13-04-05 to 13-04-24
13-04-24 to 13-04-29
10-04-29 to 13-05-02
13-05-02 to 13-05-07
13-05-07 to 13-05-24
13-05-24 to 13-06-03
13-06-25 to 13-07-01
13-07-01 to 13-07-08
13-07-08 to 13-07-15

Step length (meters)





Step Length Questions

1. What do Estebans movement patterns look like in the spring? Summer? Fall?
2. Why do think the turtles might move more or less in the spring, summer, and
3. Why arent we asking you to calculate step lengths for the winter?
Home Ranges
An animals home range is the area that it lives in. It should include everything that
animal needs to survive. However, a home range can be limited by certain factors;
it might be the case that an animal would have a larger home range if it could, but
the shape of the environment restricts its movement. One of the questions of the
Box Turtle Project is whether the environment in Forest Park is limiting the home
ranges of the turtles living there.
In this activity, you will be calculating home ranges for the turtles by creating
minimum convex polygons (MCPs) using the movement data you have downloaded.
MCPs are created by drawing a polygon connecting the outermost points of the data
set so that none of the angles of the polygon are more than 180 degrees. In other
words, any bends in the perimeter of the polygon should be convex, not concave.

Lets make a MCP for Estebans home range. To begin, make sure that all of
Estebans data points are visible by checking the box labeled Points in Estebans
data set. Adjust the animation timeline so that the slider is all the way to the right
and the eraser is all the way to the left.
To draw and calculate the area of the MCP:
Click on the ruler on the top toolbar.
Go to the Polygon tab.
Change the units of the perimeter to meters and the units of area to hectares
(1 ha = 10,000 square meters = 2.47 acres).
Begin clicking the outer points on the polygon as demonstrated in the image
above. Remember: you dont want any concave bends in your polygon. If you
mess up, you can change the location of points once you close the polygon.
Once youve finished drawing, click Save in the ruler window. When you do,
a new window will pop up allowing you to change the polygon.
o Name it so that you know which turtle it is for (I named mine Esteban
o Navigate to the Style, color tab. This will allow you to change the
look of the polygon.
Change the Lines and Area to match by clicking the colored
box. I changed them to match the colors automatically chosen
for Estebans data set.
Select Filled + Outlined in the drop-down menu under Area.
This fills in the polygon with color.
Change the Opacity to be somewhere around 60%, which
allows you to visualize overlap between turtles ranges.
o Click OK. This will save your polygon in your sidebar.

You can now uncheck the points and lines to see only the home range. By
calculating the home ranges for all of the tagged turtles, you can more easily see
the area that they can cover and how frequently they overlap. For example, here
are the polygons for Kimi and Snoopy, who roamed in the same area:

One thing to keep in mind as youre calculating home ranges is that the shape of
the home range depends on how long the turtle has been tracked. It might be the
case that a turtle with a small home range is actually quite a mover, but that we
havent captured that yet because we only have a year of data. Conversely, a turtle
that weve tracked for years might have a large home range, but that might just be
because it has had more time to mosey around, and in reality the turtle is quite
slow. This is why examining step lengths with home ranges is powerful. For this
activity, we are just going to have you keep track of how long the turtle has been

tracked and how many points are in its data set so that you keep that under
**IMPORTANT: For all turtles with multiple data sets, make sure that all of
their points are visible before you create their MCP. John, Kimi, Snoopy,
Mum, Elmo, and Snoopy all have 2 data sets, and T-Rex and Jewel have 3.**

(Tyson or

Time period
data collected

of points
in the
data set


How many
other home

Dani Girl
Drawing Polygons Questions
1. What is the purpose of drawing the polygons around the home ranges?
2. Which Tyson turtle has the largest home range? The smallest? What about
the largest and smallest Forest Park ranges? Is the difference between largest
and smallest range greater at Tyson or Forest Park? Why do you think that is?

3. In general, which site seems to harbor the turtles with the largest home
ranges? Why?
4. Is there more overlap between ranges at Tyson or Forest Park? Do the same
turtles overlap more frequently at Tyson or Forest Park? Why do you think
that might be?
5. There are many different ways to calculate home ranges. What are some
drawbacks to this particular method?
General Questions
1. List some reasons that turtles might move.
2. List some potential dangers to turtles health or safety. How might the
dangers have changed in the past few decades?
Check the box next to the St. Louis Box Turtles data set to make all of the turtles
paths visible. Zoom in on Tyson, but far enough back that all of the turtles are
3. What do you notice about the turtles ranges at Tyson in general. How large
are they? Do they overlap?
4. Looking at the aerial images on Google Earth, why do you think that Tyson
might be a good habitat for the turtles?
Now zoom in on Forest Parkagain, far enough back that all of the turtles are
5. How are the ranges of the Forest Park turtles different from the ranges of the
Tyson turtles? Do the ranges of the Forest Park turtles overlap often?
6. What are some potential explanations for the differences in movement
patterns between Tyson turtles and Forest Park turtles? (Hint: look at the
landscape images for Forest Park)
Now imagine a turtle got a disease like mycoplasma, which is transmissible between
turtles. Mycoplasma causes swollen eyes and heavy discharge from the nose. Think
of it like a horrific head cold that has the potential to kill a turtle if they cant
overcome it.
7. List some things that need to happen for a disease like mycoplasma to be
transmitted from one turtle to another.
8. Do you think a disease like mycoplasma would be quicker to spread at Tyson
or at Forest Park? Why?
Some things to consider when answering this question:
a. Evidence suggests that turtles with mycoplasma might move more
rapidly than turtles that do not have it.
b. The tagged turtles in this data set are just a sample of the populations
at each location. There are more turtles at both Tyson and Forest Park
that are not visible on the map.

9. What are some of the limits of this type of sampling/tracking (tagging each
turtle, using an antenna to find them, manually taking weekly GPS points)?
Would it work for all species of animals? Why is it appropriate for use with box
10.Besides disease transmission modeling, brainstorm three other questions that
movement data could be used to help answer (they dont have to be turtlerelated).