The effectiveness of Bayesian state-space models for estimating behavioural states from movement paths


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  1. Bayesian state-space movement models have been proposed as a method of inferring behavioural states from movement paths (Morales et al. 2004), thereby providing insight into the behavioural processes from which patterns of animal space use arise in heterogeneous environments. It is not clear, however, how effective state-space models are at estimating behavioural states.
  2. We use stochastic simulations of two movement models to quantify how behavioural state movement characteristics affect classification error. State-space movement models can be a highly effective approach to estimating behavioural states from movement paths.
  3. Classification accuracy was contingent upon the degree of separation between the distributions that characterize the states (e.g. step length and turn angle distributions) and the relative frequency of the behavioural states. In the best case scenarios classification accuracy approached 100%, but was close to 0% when step length and turn angle distributions of each state were similar, or when one state was rare. Mean classification accuracy was uncorrelated with path length, but the variance in classification accuracy was inversely related to path length.
  4. Importantly, we find that classification accuracy can be predicted based on the separation between distributions that characterize the movement paths, thereby providing a method of estimating classification accuracy for real movement paths. We demonstrate this approach using radiotelemetry relocation data of 34 moose (Alces alces).
  5. We conclude that Bayesian state-space models offer powerful new opportunities for inferring behavioural states from relocation data.