Soaring with Eagles, Swimming with Sharks: Measuring Animal Behaviour with Hidden Markov Models


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.

The following images provide an inside view into the ecosystems in which the Verreaux’s eagle and blacktip reef shark reside.

Soaring with Veraux’s Eagles

Swimming with Blacktip Reef Sharks

To find out more, read our Methods in Ecology and Evolution article ‘Analysis of animal accelerometer data using hidden Markov models’.

New Associate Editor: Marie Auger-Méthé

Today, we are pleased to be welcoming a new member of the Methods in Ecology and Evolution Associate Editor Board. Marie Auger-Méthé joins us from Dalhousie University in Canada and you can find out a little more about her below.

Marie Auger-Méthé

Marie Auger-Méthé

“I am broadly interested in developing and applying statistical tools to infer behavioural and population processes from empirical data. My work tends to focus on marine and polar mammals, but the methods I develop are often applicable to a wide range of species and ecosystems. My recent work has centred on modelling animal behaviour using movement data and I generally analyse data with spatial and/or temporal structure.”

Marie has been reviewing for Methods in Ecology and Evolution for a few years and has contributed articles to some of the other journals of the British Ecological Society too. Earlier this month, her article titled ‘Evaluating random search strategies in three mammals from distinct feeding guilds‘ was published in the Journal of Animal Ecology. Continue reading