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Using animal movement paths to measure response to spatial scale


Animals live in an environment that is patchy and hierarchical. I present a method of detecting the scales at which animals perceive their world. The hierarchical nature of habitat causes movement path structure to vary with spatial scale, and the patchy nature of habitat causes movement path structure to vary throughout space. These responses can be measured by a combination of path tortuousity (measured with fractal dimension) versus spatial scale, the variation in tortuousity of small path segments along the movement path, and the correlation between tortuousities of adjacent path segments. These statistics were tested using simulated animal movements. When movement paths contained no spatial heterogeneity, then fractal D and variance continuously increased with scale, and correlation was zero at all scales. When movement paths contained spatial heterogeneity, then fractal D sometimes showed a discontinuity at transitions between domains of scale, variation showed peaks at transitions, and correlations showed a statistically significant positive value at scales smaller than patch size, decreasing to below zero at scales greater than patch size. I illustrated these techniques with movement paths from deer mice and red-backed voles. These new analyses should help understand how animals perceive and react to their landscape structure at various spatial scales, and to answer questions about how habitat structure affects animal movement patterns.

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This work was supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. I thank M. Nams for editorial assistance.

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Correspondence to Vilis O. Nams.

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Nams, V.O. Using animal movement paths to measure response to spatial scale. Oecologia 143, 179–188 (2005).

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  • Fractal
  • Domain
  • Heterogeneity
  • Hierarchy
  • Tortuousity