Accelerometers can measure total and activity-specific energy expenditures in free-ranging marine mammals only if linked to time-activity budgets

Tiphaine Jeanniard-du-Dot, Christophe Guinet, John P. Y. Arnould, John R. Speakman, Andrew Trites

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Citations (Scopus)
10 Downloads (Pure)


1-Energy expenditure is an important component of foraging ecology, but is extremely difficult to estimate in free-ranging animals and depends on how animals partition their time between different activities during foraging. Acceleration data has emerged as a new way to determine energy expenditure at a fine scale but needs to be tested and validated in wild animals. 2-This study investigated whether vectorial dynamic body acceleration (VeDBA) could accurately predict the energy expended by marine predators during a full foraging trip. We also aimed to determine whether the accuracy of predictions of energy expenditure derived from acceleration increased when partitioned by different types of at-sea activities (i.e., diving, transiting, resting and surface activities) vs calculated activity-specific metabolic rates. 3-To do so, we equipped 20 lactating northern (Callorhinus ursinus) and 20 Antarctic fur seals (Arctocephalus gazella) with GPS, time-depth recorders and tri-axial accelerometers, and obtained estimates of field metabolic rates using the doubly-labelled water (DLW) method. VeDBA was derived from tri-axial acceleration, and at-sea activities (diving, transiting, resting and surface activities) were determined using dive depth, tri-axial acceleration and traveling speed. 4-We found that VeDBA did not accurately predict the total energy expended by fur seals during their full foraging trips (R2 = 0.36). However, the accuracy of VeDBA as a predictor of total energy expenditure increased significantly when foraging trips were partitioned by activity and used activity-specific VeDBA paired with time activity budgets (R2 = 0.70). Activity-specific VeDBA also accurately predicted the energy expenditures of each activity independent of each other (R2 > 0.85). 5-Our study confirms that acceleration is a promising way to estimate energy expenditures of free-ranging marine mammals at a fine scale never attained before. However, it shows that it needs to be based on the time-activity budget that make up foraging trips rather than being derived as a single measure of VeDBA applied to entire foraging trips. Our activity-based method provides a cost-effective means to accurately calculate energy expenditures of fur seals using acceleration and time-activity budgets, a stepping stone for numerous other research fields.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)377–386
Number of pages10
JournalFunctional Ecology
Issue number2
Early online date3 Oct 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2017


  • acceleration
  • VeDBA
  • time-activity budget
  • northern fur seal
  • Antarctic fur seal
  • energy expenditure
  • metabolic rate
  • foraging


Dive into the research topics of 'Accelerometers can measure total and activity-specific energy expenditures in free-ranging marine mammals only if linked to time-activity budgets'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this