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The Langevin diffusion as a continuous‐time model of animal movement and habitat selection

Abstract : Recent advances in biologging open promising perspectives in the study of animal movements at numerous scales. It is now possible to record time series of animal locations and ancillary data (e.g. activity level derived from on-board accelerometers) over extended areas and long durations with a high spatial and temporal resolution. Such time series are often piecewise stationary, as the animal may alternate between different stationary phases (i.e. characterized by a specific mean and variance of some key parameter for limited periods). Identifying when these phases start and end is a critical first step to understand the dynamics of the underlying movement processes. We introduce a new continuous‐time model of animal movement, based on the Langevin diffusion. This stochastic process has an explicit stationary distribution, conceptually analogous to the idea of the utilization distribution, and thus provides an intuitive framework to integrate movement and space use. We model the stationary (utilization) distribution with a resource selection function to link the movement to spatial covariates, and allow inference about habitat preferences of animals. Standard approximation techniques can be used to derive the pseudo‐likelihood of the Langevin diffusion movement model, and to estimate habitat preference and movement parameters from tracking data. We investigate the performance of the method on simulated data, and discuss its sensitivity to the time scale of the sampling. We present an example of its application to tracking data of Steller sea lions Eumetopias jubatus. Due to its continuous‐time formulation, this method can be applied to irregular telemetry data. The movement model is specified using a habitat‐dependent utilization distribution, and it provides a rigorous framework to estimate long‐term habitat selection from correlated movement data. The Langevin movement model can be written as a linear model, which allows for very fast inference. Standard tools such as residuals can be used for model checking.
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Théo Michelot, Pierre Gloaguen, Paul Blackwell, Marie-Pierre Etienne. The Langevin diffusion as a continuous‐time model of animal movement and habitat selection. Methods in Ecology and Evolution, Wiley, 2019, 10 (11), pp.1894-1907. ⟨10.1111/2041-210x.13275⟩. ⟨hal-02363060⟩

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