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Linking behavioral states to landscape features for improved conservation management

May 25, 2021
  1. A central theme for conservation is understanding how animals differentially use, and are affected by change in, the landscapes they inhabit. However, it has been challenging to develop conservation schemes for habitat-specific behaviors.
  2. Here we use behavioral change point analysis to identify behavioral states of golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) in the Sonoran and Mojave Deserts of the southwestern United States, and we identify, for each behavioral state, conservation-relevant habitat associations.
  3. We modeled behavior using 186,859 GPS points from 48 eagles and identified 2,851 distinct segments comprising four behavioral states. Altitude above ground level (AGL) best differentiated behavioral states, with two clusters of short-distance movement behaviors characterized by low AGL (state 1 AGL = 14 m (median); state 2 AGL = 11 m) and two associated with longer-distance movement behaviors and characterized by higher AGL (state 3 AGL = 108 m; state 4 AGL = 450 m).
  4. Behaviors such as perching and low-altitude hunting were associated with short-distance movements in updraft-poor environments, at higher elevations, and over steeper and more north-facing terrain. In contrast, medium-distance movements such as hunting and transiting were over gentle and south-facing slopes. Long-distance transiting occurred over the desert habitats that generate the best updraft.
  5. This information can guide management of this species, and our approach provides a template for behavior-specific habitat associations for other species of management concern.