Beumer LT, Schmidt NM, Pohle J, Signer J, Chimienti M, Desforges JP et al. Accounting for behaviour in fine-scale habitat selection: A case study highlighting methodological intricacies. Journal of Animal Ecology. 2023;92(10):1937-1953. Epub 2023 jul. 16.
New publication by Beumer LT, Schmidt NM, Pohle J, Signer J, Chimienti M, Desforges JP et al
- Animal habitat selection—central in both theoretical and applied ecology—may depend on behavioural motivations such as foraging, predator avoidance, and thermoregulation. Step-selection functions (SSFs) enable assessment of fine-scale habitat selection as a function of an animal's movement capacities and spatiotemporal variation in extrinsic conditions.
- If animal location data can be associated with behaviour, SSFs are an intuitive approach to quantify behaviour-specific habitat selection. Fitting SSFs separately for distinct behavioural states helped to uncover state-specific selection patterns. However, while the definition of the availability domain has been highlighted as the most critical aspect of SSFs, the influence of accounting for behaviour in the use-availability design has not been quantified yet.
- Using a predator-free population of high-arctic muskoxen Ovibos moschatus as a case study, we aimed to evaluate how (1) defining behaviour-specific availability domains, and/or (2) fitting separate behaviour-specific models impacts (a) model structure, (b) estimated selection coefficients and (c) model predictive performance as opposed to behaviour-unspecific approaches. To do so, we first applied hidden Markov models to infer different behavioural modes (resting, foraging, relocating) from hourly GPS positions (19 individuals, 153–1062 observation days/animal). Using SSFs, we then compared behaviour-specific versus behaviour-unspecific habitat selection in relation to terrain features, vegetation and snow conditions.
- Our results show that incorporating behaviour into the definition of the availability domain primarily impacts model structure (i.e. variable selection), whereas fitting separate behaviour-specific models mainly influences selection strength. Behaviour-specific availability domains improved predictive performance for foraging and relocating models (i.e. behaviours with medium to large spatial displacement), but decreased performance for resting models. Thus, even for a predator-free population subject to only negligible interspecific competition and human disturbance we found that accounting for behaviour in SSFs impacted model structure, selection coefficients and predictive performance.
- Our results indicate that for robust inference, both a behaviour-specific availability domain and behaviour-specific model fitting should be explored, especially for populations where strong spatiotemporal selection trade-offs are expected. This is particularly critical if wildlife habitat preferences are estimated to inform management and conservation initiatives.