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Hidden Markov movement models reveal diverse seasonal movement patterns in two North American ungulates

July 20, 2023

Animal movement is the mechanism connecting landscapes to fitness, and understanding variation in seasonal animal movements has benefited from the analysis and categorization of animal displacement. However, seasonal movement patterns can defy classification when movements are highly variable. Hidden Markov movement models (HMMs) are a class of latent-state models well-suited to modeling movement data. Here, we used HMMs to assess seasonal patterns of variation in the movement of pronghorn (Antilocapra americana), a species known for variable seasonal movements that challenge analytical approaches, while using a population of mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus), for whom seasonal movements are well-documented, as a comparison. We used population-level HMMs in a Bayesian framework to estimate a seasonal trend in the daily probability of transitioning between a short-distance local movement state and a long-distance movement state. The estimated seasonal patterns of movements in mule deer closely aligned with prior work based on indices of animal displacement: a short period of long-distance movements in the fall season and again in the spring, consistent with migrations to and from seasonal ranges. We found seasonal movement patterns for pronghorn were more variable, as a period of long-distance movements in the fall was followed by a winter period in which pronghorn were much more likely to further initiate and remain in a long-distance movement pattern compared with the movement patterns of mule deer. Overall, pronghorn were simply more likely to be in a long-distance movement pattern throughout the year. Hidden Markov movement models provide inference on seasonal movements similar to other methods, while providing a robust framework to understand movement patterns on shorter timescales and for more challenging movement patterns. Hidden Markov movement models can allow a rigorous assessment of the drivers of changes in movement patterns such as extreme weather events and land development, important for management and conservation.

Publication Year 2023
Title Hidden Markov movement models reveal diverse seasonal movement patterns in two North American ungulates
DOI 10.1002/ece3.10282
Authors J. Terrill Paterson, Aaron N. Johnston, Anna Ortega, Cody Wallace, Matthew Kauffman
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecology and Evolution
Index ID 70249213
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center