Spatial scales of habitat selection decisions: implications for telemetry-based movement modelling

12 April 2017

Bastille-Rousseau, Guillaume; Murray, Dennis; Schaefer, James A.; Lewis, Mark; Mahoney, Shane; Potts, Jonathan

Movement influences myriad ecological processes operating at multiple spatial and temporal scales. Yet our understanding of animal movement is limited by the resolution of data that can be obtained from individuals. Traditional approaches implicitly assume that movement decisions are made at the spatial and temporal scales of observation, although this scale is typically an artifact of data-gathering technology rather than biological realism. To address this limitation, we used telemetry-based movement data for caribou (Rangifer tarandus) in Newfoundland, Canada, and compared movement decisions estimated at the temporal resolution of GPS relocations (2 hours) to a novel model describing directional movement to areas reachable over an extended period. We showed that this newer model is a better predictor of movement decisions by caribou, with decisions made at the scale of ~2 km, including the strong avoidance of dense coniferous forest, an outcome not detectable at the scale of GPS relocations. These results illustrate the complexity of factors affecting animal movement decisions and the analytical challenges associated with their interpretation. Our novel modelling framework will help support increased accuracy in predictive models of animal space-use, and thereby aid in determining biologically meaningful scales for collecting movement and habitat data.