Ecological Applications of Time-Lapse Photography

The Platte River Basin is one of the most significant river systems in the Great Plains and an internationally important wildlife resource. It demonstrates the complexity, over-appropriation, and importance of a human-dominated ecosystem that sustains many services including water supply for municipalities, agricultural irrigation, recreation, and fish and wildlife habitat.


To connect environmental changes, documented by time-lapse imagery, with bioacoustic data and water quality measurements to further our understanding of ecological variability and communicate complex system changes to a public audience.

Current Status

Phenology, the timing of biological events and the causes of their timing, is an increasingly valuable component in understanding ecosystems. Our goal is to identify what environmental factors influence wildlife activity and other biological phenomena. We utilized bioacoustic recordings to determine the relative activity of bat, bird and frog species, and time-lapse imagery to quantitatively assess vegetation phenophase, a proxy for primary productivity and, therefore, resource availability. Preliminary findings suggest vegetation is an influential cue for migratory bat species.

Freshwater systems are inherently complex, functioning at varying temporal and spatial scales. We installed passive sensors and collected water samples in the Platte River Basin to measure water quality variables, including nutrients and pesticides. Time-lapse image analysis was used to estimate water-inundation where hydrological information was not available. We assessed variables using a multivariate time-series modeling approach. Models captured temporal dynamics of water quality and revealed the difference in patterns between wetland and river channels.

We are also developing educational tools through the synthesis of time-lapse imagery and data visualization. Videos, stories, and interactive graphics in a new media format will communicate the phenology, water quality dynamics, and importance of the Platte River Basin and our freshwater ecosystems.

Time-lapse of Platter River
Time-lapse of Platter River
Principal Investigator(s)
-Craig R. Allen, NE CFWRU
- Michael Farrell, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
-Michael Forsberg,University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Graduate Student(s)
-Emma Brinley Buckley, M.S.(2016)

Project Duration
January 2013-August 2016

-Institute for Agriculture and Natural Resources
-University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Project Location
Central Platte River Basin, Nebraska