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Machine learned daily life history classification using low frequency tracking data and automated modelling pipelines: Application to North American waterfowl

May 16, 2022


Identifying animal behaviors, life history states, and movement patterns is a prerequisite for many animal behavior analyses and effective management of wildlife and habitats. Most approaches classify short-term movement patterns with high frequency location or accelerometry data. However, patterns reflecting life history across longer time scales can have greater relevance to species biology or management needs, especially when available in near real-time. Given limitations in collecting and using such data to accurately classify complex behaviors in the long-term, we used hourly GPS data from 5 waterfowl species to produce daily activity classifications with machine-learned models using “automated modelling pipelines”.


Automated pipelines are computer-generated code that complete many tasks including feature engineering, multi-framework model development, training, validation, and hyperparameter tuning to produce daily classifications from eight activity patterns reflecting waterfowl life history or movement states. We developed several input features for modeling grouped into three broad categories, hereafter “feature sets”: GPS locations, habitat information, and movement history. Each feature set used different data sources or data collected across different time intervals to develop the “features” (independent variables) used in models.


Automated modelling pipelines rapidly developed easily reproducible data preprocessing and analysis steps, identification and optimization of the best performing model and provided outputs for interpreting feature importance. Unequal expression of life history states caused unbalanced classes, so we evaluated feature set importance using a weighted F1-score to balance model recall and precision among individual classes. Although the best model using the least restrictive feature set (only 24 hourly relocations in a day) produced effective classifications (weighted F1 = 0.887), models using all feature sets performed substantially better (weighted F1 = 0.95), particularly for rarer but demographically more impactful life history states (i.e., nesting).


Automated pipelines generated models producing highly accurate classifications of complex daily activity patterns using relatively low frequency GPS and incorporating more classes than previous GPS studies. Near real-time classification is possible which is ideal for time-sensitive needs such as identifying reproduction. Including habitat and longer sequences of spatial information produced more accurate classifications but incurred slight delays in processing.

Publication Year 2022
Title Machine learned daily life history classification using low frequency tracking data and automated modelling pipelines: Application to North American waterfowl
DOI 10.1186/s40462-022-00324-7
Authors Cory T. Overton, Michael L. Casazza, Joseph Bretz, Fiona McDuie, Elliott Matchett, Desmond Alexander Mackell, Austen Lorenz, Andrea Mott, Mark P. Herzog, Josh T. Ackerman
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Movement Ecology
Index ID 70238488
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Ecological Research Center