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Examining speed versus selection in connectivity models using elk migration as an example

May 11, 2018

Context

Landscape resistance is vital to connectivity modeling and frequently derived from resource selection functions (RSFs). RSFs estimate relative probability of use and tend to focus on understanding habitat preferences during slow, routine animal movements (e.g., foraging). Dispersal and migration, however, can produce rarer, faster movements, in which case models of movement speed rather than resource selection may be more realistic for identifying habitats that facilitate connectivity.

Objective

To compare two connectivity modeling approaches applied to resistance estimated from models of movement rate and resource selection.

Methods

Using movement data from migrating elk, we evaluated continuous time Markov chain (CTMC) and movement-based RSF models (i.e., step selection functions [SSFs]). We applied circuit theory and shortest random path (SRP) algorithms to CTMC, SSF and null (i.e., flat) resistance surfaces to predict corridors between elk seasonal ranges. We evaluated prediction accuracy by comparing model predictions to empirical elk movements.

Results

All connectivity models predicted elk movements well, but models applied to CTMC resistance were more accurate than models applied to SSF and null resistance. Circuit theory models were more accurate on average than SRP models.

Conclusions

CTMC can be more realistic than SSFs for estimating resistance for fast movements, though SSFs may demonstrate some predictive ability when animals also move slowly through corridors (e.g., stopover use during migration). High null model accuracy suggests seasonal range data may also be critical for predicting direct migration routes. For animals that migrate or disperse across large landscapes, we recommend incorporating CTMC into the connectivity modeling toolkit.