U.S. Geological Survey, Western Ecological Research Center Santa Cruz Field Station, 100 Shaffer Road, Santa Cruz, California, 95060, USA.
The home-range concept is central in animal ecology and behavior, and numerous mechanistic models have been developed to understand home range formation and maintenance. These mechanistic models usually assume a single, contiguous home range. Here we describe and implement a simple home-range model that can accommodate multiple home-range centers, form complex shapes, allow discontinuities in use patterns, and infer how external and internal variables affect movement and use patterns. The model assumes individuals associate with two or more home-range centers and move among them with some estimable probability. Movement in and around home-range centers is governed by a two-dimensional Ornstein-Uhlenbeck process, while transitions between centers are modeled as a stochastic state-switching process. We augmented this base model by introducing environmental and demographic covariates that modify transition probabilities between home-range centers and can be estimated to provide insight into the movement process. We demonstrate the model using telemetry data from seaotters (Enhydra lutris) in California. The model was fit using a Bayesian Markov Chain Monte Carlo method, which estimated transition probabilities, as well as unique Ornstein-Uhlenbeck diffusion and centralizing tendency parameters. Estimated parameters could then be used to simulate movement and space use that was virtually indistinguishable from real data. We used Deviance Information Criterion (DIC) scores to assess model fit and determined that both wind and reproductive status were predictive of transitions between home-range centers. Females were less likely to move between home-range centers on windy days, less likely to move between centers when tending pups, and much more likely to move between centers just after weaning a pup. These tendencies are predicted by theoretical movement rules but were not previously known and show that our model can extract meaningful behavioral insight from complex movement data.