Meet Max Planck Institute PhD student Martina Scacco — PeerJ Award winner at the Italian Ornithology Congress

Martina Scacco last year at Le Rocher des Aigles: “A falconry park located in Rocamadour, France, where we could equip different soaring species with GPS and accelerometers and fly them simultaneously in the same area to compare their movement patterns.”

Introducing Martina Scacco — winner of the PeerJ Award for Best Presentation at the XX Italian Congress of Ornithology.  We congratulate Martina on her award-winning research presentation: “Differential use of energy available in the landscape by two soaring bird species”. The Congress, held in Naples, Italy in September 2019, was organized by ARDEA and The Italian Centre for Ornithological Studies.

The PeerJ Award, intended for students and early career researchers, includes a free publication in PeerJ – the Journal of Life and Environmental Sciences (upon submission and acceptance through our normal peer review process).

Learn more about Martina and her research in our interview below:

  • Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your research interests?

I graduated with a master’s degree in Ecobiology from the University of Rome “La Sapienza” and I am currently a third-year PhD student in the computational ecology group led by Dr. Kamran Safi at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Radolfzell, Germany. Our lab investigates animal movement, more specifically how, and to what extent, the environment affects the movement patterns of different species.

My PhD focuses on soaring birds. Because of their large-scale movements and their strict dependence on the support of atmospheric uplifts to move across the landscape, I think they represent an ideal group of species to investigate the movement-environment relationship. Understanding the level of this dependence allows me to predict their movements in different environmental scenarios, both current and future, with potential conservation consequences.

I am currently using movement data (collected mainly through GPS and accelerometers) to relate the flight behaviour of different soaring species to their environmental context, to understand and predict the movement patterns of these birds and their cost of movement across the landscape at different spatial and temporal scales.

I am also interested in comparing the interplay of flight behaviour, energy expenditure and environment across different soaring species, to evaluate to what extent different morphologies can define dependence on landscape features and potentially their differential sensitivity to changes in the environment.

  • Can you briefly explain the research you presented at XX CIO?

In the study I presented, my co-authors and I focused on the comparison of the flight behaviour of two obligate soaring bird species, the white stork and the griffon vulture, and on the use of different environmental features to predict their movement pattern. Both of these species strongly rely on the availability of uplifts to fly efficiently but our study highlighted important differences in the way the two species interpret and use their landscape. Our study highlights the importance of considering inter-specific differences, even in species with similar flight behaviour, when generalizing the complex relationship between environment and animal movement.

  • What are your next steps? How will you continue to build on this research?

I would like to build on the results of this research by extending my comparisons to other soaring species in a more controlled setting: with individuals of different species and known morphologies flying in the same area. In this way, I could account for the environmental variability and focus more on the behavioural differences owed to the different species’ morphologies.

The results of such studies have implications for the conservation of soaring species, especially in a time in which the need for the production of clean energy is forcing the competition between human infrastructures (such as wind farms) and flying animals, both trying to take advantage of the energy available in the aerosphere. Finding mitigation solutions to this human-wildlife conflict has become more urgent in the last decades, with the increased awareness of the direct and indirect impacts that these infrastructures have on soaring birds. In this context, I would like to provide not only the knowledge about the environmental requirements of the different species but also an awareness of the limits of the analytical methods currently used in the academic research, both important aspects to contribute to minimizing the impact of new infrastructures.


Along with Martina’s PeerJ Award for Best Presentation, Sara Cioccarelli won the PeerJ Award for Best Poster at XX CIO. Check back to learn more about Sara’s research.

Get to know the following PeerJ Sections: Ecology, Environmental Science, Paleontology and Evolutionary Science, Zoological Science.

Max Planck Institute is a PeerJ Institutional Member. Researchers from Max Planck Institutions can publish for free in PeerJ journals.

About: PeerJ is an Open Access publisher of seven peer-reviewed journals. PeerJ’s mission is to help the world efficiently publish its knowledge. All works published by PeerJ are Open Access and published using a Creative Commons license (CC-BY 4.0).

PeerJ – the Journal of Life and Environmental Sciences is the peer-reviewed journal for Biology, Medicine and Environmental Sciences. PeerJ also publishes PeerJ Computer Science, and five newly launched PeerJ Chemistry journals.

By teaming up with a number of conferences to offer these awards, we are making it as easy as possible for organizers to reward excellence in science, support students and early career researchers, and signal to the wider research community that open science is better science. Learn more here and get in touch if you are a conference organizer and are looking to offer a ‘Best Contribution’ award for open science –


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