EXTRACTING MORE OUT OF RELOCATION DATA: BUILDING MOVEMENT MODELS AS MIXTURES OF RANDOM WALKS

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Abstract

We present a framework for fitting multiple random walks to animal movement paths consisting of ordered sets of step lengths and turning angles. Each step and turn is assigned to one of a number of random walks, each characteristic of a different behavioral state. Behavioral state assignments may be inferred purely from movement data or may include the habitat type in which the animals are located. Switching between different behavioral states may be modeled explicitly using a state transition matrix estimated directly from data, or switching probabilities may take into account the proximity of animals to landscape features. Model fitting is undertaken within a Bayesian framework using the WinBUGS software. These methods allow for identification of different movement states using several properties of observed paths and lead naturally to the formulation of movement models. Analysis of relocation data from elk released in east-central Ontario, Canada, suggests a biphasic movement behavior: elk are either in an “encamped” state in which step lengths are small and turning angles are high, or in an “exploratory” state, in which daily step lengths are several kilometers and turning angles are small. Animals encamp in open habitat (agricultural fields and opened forest), but the exploratory state is not associated with any particular habitat type.

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