Central place foragers and moving stimuli: a hidden-state model to discriminate the processes affecting movement

Enrico Pirotta* (Corresponding Author), Ewan W J Edwards, Leslie New, Paul Thompson

*Corresponding author for this work

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1.Human activities can influence the movement of organisms, either repelling or attracting individuals depending on whether they interfere with natural behavioural patterns or enhance access to food. To discern the processes affecting such interactions, an appropriate analytical approach must reflect the motivations driving behavioural decisions at multiple scales.

2.In this study, we developed a modelling framework for the analysis of foraging trips by central place foragers. By recognising the distinction between movement phases at a larger scale and movement steps at a finer scale, our model can identify periods when animals are actively following moving attractors in their landscape.

3.We applied the framework to GPS tracking data of northern fulmars Fulmarus glacialis, paired with contemporaneous fishing boat locations, to quantify the putative scavenging activity of these seabirds on discarded fish and offal. We estimated the rate and scale of interaction between individual birds and fishing boats and the interplay with other aspects of a foraging trip.

4.The model classified periods when birds were heading out to sea, returning towards the colony or following the closest boat. The probability of switching towards a boat declined with distance and varied depending on the phase of the trip. The maximum distance at which a bird switched towards the closest boat was estimated around 35 km, suggesting the use of olfactory information to locate food. Individuals spent a quarter of a foraging trip, on average, following fishing boats, with marked heterogeneity among trips and individuals.

5.Our approach can be used to characterise interactions between central place foragers and different anthropogenic or natural stimuli. The model identifies the processes influencing central place foraging at multiple scales, which can improve our understanding of the mechanisms underlying movement behaviour and characterise individual variation in interactions with a range of human activities that may attract or repel these species. Therefore, it can be adapted to explore the movement of other species that are subject to multiple dynamic drivers.

This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1116-1125
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Issue number4
Early online date19 Apr 2018
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2018

Bibliographical note

We thank Orkney Islands Council for access to Eynhallow and Talisman Energy (UK) Ltd for fieldwork and equipment support. Marine Scotland provided access to anonymized VMS data. Handling and tagging of fulmars was conducted under licenses from the British Trust for Ornithology and the UK Home Office. EE was funded by a Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland/University of Aberdeen College of Life Sciences and Medicine studentship. We are grateful to Jason Matthiopoulos, Thomas Cornulier, Beth Scott, David Lusseau, Julien Martin and Tiago Marques for suggestions on model development, and to the many colleagues who assisted with fieldwork. We thank Emer Rogan and University College Cork for providing desk space to EP. Finally, we thank Editor-in-Chief Ben Sheldon, Associate Editor Luca Borger and three anonymous reviewers for their useful comments on the paper.

Data available from the Dryad Digital Repository: https://doi:10.5061/dryad.0d377r6 (Pirotta et al., 2018)


  • Animal telemetry
  • Bayesian
  • movement attractors
  • central place foraging
  • Fulmarus glacialis
  • hidden state modelling
  • multi-scale


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