Reptiles on the wrong track? Moving beyond traditional estimators with dynamic Brownian Bridge Movement Models

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Abstract

Background: Animal movement expressed through home ranges or space-use can offer insights into spatial and habitat requirements. However, different classes of estimation methods are currently instinctively applied to answer home range, space-use or movement-based research questions regardless of their widely varying outputs, directly impacting conclusions. Recent technological advances in animal tracking (GPS and satellite tags), have enabled new methods to quantify animal space-use and movement pathways, but so far have primarily targeted mammal and avian species. Methods: Most reptile spatial ecology studies only make use of two older home range estimation methods: Minimum Convex Polygons (MCP) and Kernel Density Estimators (KDE), particularly with the Least Squares Cross Validation (LSCV) and reference (href) bandwidth selection algorithms. These methods are frequently applied to answer space-use and movement-based questions. Reptile movement patterns are unique (e.g., low movement frequency, long stop-over periods), prompting investigation into whether newer movement-based methods –such as dynamic Brownian Bridge Movement Models (dBBMMs)– apply to Very High Frequency (VHF) radio-telemetry tracking data. We simulated movement data for three archetypical reptile species: a highly mobile active hunter, an ambush predator with long-distance moves and long-term sheltering periods, and an ambush predator with short-distance moves and short-term sheltering periods. We compared traditionally used estimators, MCP and KDE, with dBBMMs, across eight feasible VHF field sampling regimes for reptiles, varying from one data point every four daylight hours, to once per month. Results: Although originally designed for GPS tracking studies, dBBMMs outperformed MCPs and KDE href across all tracking regimes in accurately revealing movement pathways, with only KDE LSCV performing comparably at some higher frequency sampling regimes. However, the LSCV algorithm failed to converge with these high-frequency regimes due to high site fidelity, and was unstable across sampling regimes, making its use problematic for species exhibiting long-term sheltering behaviours. We found that dBBMMs minimized the effect of individual variation, maintained low error rates balanced between omission (false negative) and commission (false positive), and performed comparatively well even under low frequency sampling regimes (e.g., once a month). Conclusions: We recommend dBBMMs as a valuable alternative to MCP and KDE methods for reptile VHF telemetry data, for research questions associated with space-use and movement behaviours within the study period: they work under contemporary tracking protocols and provide more stable estimates. We demonstrate for the first time that dBBMMs can be applied confidently to low-resolution tracking data, while improving comparisons across regimes, individuals, and species.

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Silva, I., Crane, M., Marshall, B. M., & Strine, C. T. (2020). Reptiles on the wrong track? Moving beyond traditional estimators with dynamic Brownian Bridge Movement Models. Movement Ecology, 8(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40462-020-00229-3

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