Joint estimation over multiple individuals improves behavioural state inference from animal movement data

Ian Jonsen*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    127 Citations (Scopus)
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    State-space models provide a powerful way to scale up inference of movement behaviours from individuals to populations when the inference is made across multiple individuals. Here, I show how a joint estimation approach that assumes individuals share identical movement parameters can lead to improved inference of behavioural states associated with different movement processes. I use simulated movement paths with known behavioural states to compare estimation error between nonhierarchical and joint estimation formulations of an otherwise identical state-space model. Behavioural state estimation error was strongly affected by the degree of similarity between movement patterns characterising the behavioural states, with less error when movements were strongly dissimilar between states. The joint estimation model improved behavioural state estimation relative to the nonhierarchical model for simulated data with heavy-tailed Argos location errors. When applied to Argos telemetry datasets from 10 Weddell seals, the nonhierarchical model estimated highly uncertain behavioural state switching probabilities for most individuals whereas the joint estimation model yielded substantially less uncertainty. The joint estimation model better resolved the behavioural state sequences across all seals. Hierarchical or joint estimation models should be the preferred choice for estimating behavioural states from animal movement data, especially when location data are error-prone.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number20625
    Pages (from-to)1-9
    Number of pages9
    JournalScientific Reports
    Publication statusPublished - 8 Feb 2016

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