Animal biologging is a technique that’s quickly becoming popular in many cross-disciplinary fields. The main aim of the method is to record aspects of an animal’s behaviour and movement, alongside the bio-physical conditions they encounter, by attaching miniaturised devices to it. In marine ecosystems, the information from these devices can be used not only to learn how we can protect animals, many of whom are particularly vulnerable to disturbance (e.g. large fish, marine mammals, seabirds and turtles), but also more about the environments they inhabit.
Challenges when Tracking Marine Animals
Many marine animals have incredibly large ranges, travelling 1000s of kilometres. A huge advantage of biologging technologies is the ability to track an individual remotely throughout its range. For animals that dive, information on sub-surface behaviour can be obtained too. This information can then be retrieved when an animal returns to a set location. If this isn’t possible (e.g. individuals that make trips that are too long or die at sea), carefully constructed summaries can be relayed via satellite. This option provides information in real time, which can be very useful for researchers.
Tracks of juvenile southern elephant seals. Red tracks are individuals that returned to their natal colony. Grey are those individuals whose information would have been lost had it not been transmitted via the Argos satellite system.
Around the world there are concerns over the impacts of land use change and the developments (such as wind farms). These concerns have led to the implementation of tracking studies to better understand movement patterns of animals. Such studies have provided a wealth of high-resolution data and opportunities to explore sophisticated statistical methods for analysis of animal behaviour.
We use accelerometer data from aerial (Verreaux’s eagle in South Africa) and marine (blacktip reef shark in Hawai’i) systems to demonstrate the use of hidden Markov models (HMMs) in providing quantitative measures of behaviour. HMMs work really well for analysing animal accelerometer data because they account for serial autocorrelation in data. They allow for inferences to be made about relative activity and behaviour when animals cannot be directly observed too, which is very important.
In addition to this, HMMs provide data-driven estimates of the underlying distributions of the acceleration metrics – and the probability of switching between states – possibly as a function of covariates. The framework that we provide in ‘Analysis of animal accelerometer data using hidden Markov models‘ can be applied to a wide range of activity data. It opens up exciting opportunities for understanding drivers of individual animal behaviour.
Verreaux’s eagles lay one to two eggs but only raise one chick. These are normally hatch during mid-winter and stay on the nest for around 90 days. The parents provision the chick during this time, delivering prey to the nest. Rock hyrax is a frequent item on the menu, as seen here. Having concurred data from accelerometers and nest cameras for the same bird could allow for activity level to be linked to successful prey acquisition or prey type. (Photo taken by a nest camera installed as part of the Black Eagle Project, Megan Murgatroyd)
Fish and invertebrates predominantly or exclusively detect particle motion.
A growing number of studies on the behaviour of aquatic animals are revealing the importance of underwater sound, yet these studies typically overlook the component of sound sensed by most species: particle motion. In response, researchers from the Universities of Bristol, Exeter and Leiden and CEFAS have developed a user-friendly introduction to particle motion, explaining how and when it ought to be measured, and provide open-access analytical tools to maximise its uptake. Continue reading →