Reconstructing step-and-turn movement

Bayesian inference for multistate ‘step and turn’ animal movement in continuous time


Mechanistic modelling of animal movement is often formulated in discrete time despite problems with scale invariance, such as handling irregularly timed observations. A natural solution is to formulate in continuous time, yet uptake of this has been slow. This lack of implementation is often excused by a difficulty in interpretation. Here we aim to bolster usage by developing a continuous-time model with interpretable parameters, similar to those of popular discrete-time models that use turning angles and step lengths. Movement is defined by a joint bearing and speed process, with parameters dependent on a continuous-time behavioural switching process, creating a flexible class of movement models. Methodology is presented for Markov chain Monte Carlo inference given irregular observations, involving augmenting observed locations with a reconstruction of the underlying movement process. This is applied to well-known GPS data from elk (Cervus elaphus), which have previously been modelled in discrete time. We demonstrate the interpretable nature of the continuous-time model, finding clear differences in behaviour over time and insights into short-term behaviour that could not have been obtained in discrete time.

Journal of Agricultural, Biological and Environmental Statistics (JABES)