Hierarchical State-Space Estimation of leatherback turtle navigation ability

Joanna Mills Flemming*, Ian D. Jonsen, Ransom A. Myers, Christopher A. Field

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)
12 Downloads (Pure)


Remotely sensed tracking technology has revealed remarkable migration patterns that were previously unknown; however, models to optimally use such data have developed more slowly. Here, we present a hierarchical Bayes state-space framework that allows us to combine tracking data from a collection of animals and make inferences at both individual and broader levels. We formulate models that allow the navigation ability of animals to be estimated and demonstrate how information can be combined over many animals to allow improved estimation. We also show how formal hypothesis testing regarding navigation ability can easily be accomplished in this framework. Using Argos satellite tracking data from 14 leatherback turtles, 7 males and 7 females, during their southward migration from Nova Scotia, Canada, we find that the circle of confusion (the radius around an animal's location within which it is unable to determine its location precisely) is approximately 96 km. This estimate suggests that the turtles' navigation does not need to be highly accurate, especially if they are able to use more reliable cues as they near their destination. Moreover, for the 14 turtles examined, there is little evidence to suggest that male and female navigation abilities differ. Because of the minimal assumptions made about the movement process, our approach can be used to estimate and compare navigation ability for many migratory species that are able to carry electronic tracking devices.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere14245
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2010. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.

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