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Integrating animal movement with habitat suitability for estimating dynamic migratory connectivity

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LNU scientist Mariëlle van Toor and colleagues publish fresh research data that combine bird movement data with habitat suitability in a model that allows inference of connectivity of birds on a spatial scale

Marielle L. van Toor, Bart Kranstauber, Scott H. Newman, Diann J. Prosser, John Y. Takekawa, Georgios Technitis, Robert Weibel, Martin Wikelski, Kamran Safi

Abstract
Context High-resolution animal movement data are becoming increasingly available, yet having a multitude of empirical trajectories alone does not allow us to easily predict animal movement. To answer ecological and evolutionary questions at a population level, quantitative estimates of a species’ potential to link patches or populations are of importance.
Objectives We introduce an approach that combines movement-informed simulated trajectories with an environment-informed estimate of the trajectories’ plausibility to derive connectivity. Using the example of bar-headed geese we estimated migratory connectivity at a landscape level throughout the annual cycle in their native range.
Methods We used tracking data of bar-headed geese to develop a multi-state movement model and to estimate temporally explicit habitat suitability within the species’ range. We simulated migratory movements between range fragments, and calculated a
measure we called route viability. The results are compared to expectations derived from published literature.
Results Simulated migrations matched empirical trajectories in key characteristics such as stopover duration. The viability of the simulated trajectories was similar to that of the empirical trajectories. We found that, overall, the migratory connectivity was higher within the breeding than in wintering areas, corroborating previous findings for this species.
Conclusions We show how empirical tracking data and environmental information can be fused for meaningful predictions of animal movements throughout the year and even outside the spatial range of the available data. Beyond predicting migratory connectivity, our framework will prove useful for modelling ecological processes facilitated by animal movement, such as seed dispersal or disease ecology. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10980-018-0637-9

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