Relocation studies of animal movement have focused on directed versus area restricted movement, which rely on correlations between step-length and turn angles, along with a degree of stationarity through time to define behavioral states. Although these approaches may work well for grazing foraging strategies in a patchy landscape, species that do not spend a significant amount of time searching out and gathering small dispersed food items, but instead feed for short periods on large, concentrated sources or cache food result in movements that maybe difficult to analyze using turning and velocity alone. We use GPS telemetry collected from a prey-caching predator, the cougar (Puma concolor), to test whether adding additional movement metrics capturing site recursion, to the more traditional velocity and turning, improve the ability to identify behaviors. We evaluated our movement index’s ability to identify behaviors using field investigations. We further tested for statistical stationarity across behaviors for use of topographic view-sheds. We found little correlation between turn angle, velocity, tortuosity, and site fidelity and combined them into a movement index used to identify movement paths (temporally autocorrelated movements) related to fast directed movements (taxis), area restricted movements (search), and prey caching (foraging). Changes in the frequency and duration of these movements were helpful for identifying seasonal activities such as migration and denning in females. Comparison of field investigations of cougar activities to behavioral classes defined using the movement index and found an overall classification accuracy of 81%. Changes in behaviors resulted in changes in how cougars used topographic view-sheds, showing statistical non-stationarity over time. The movement index shows promise for identifying behaviors in species that frequently return to specific locations such as food caches, watering holes, or dens, and highlights the role memory and cognitive abilities may play in determining animal movements. With the addition of measures capturing site recursion the temporal structure in movements of a caching forager was revealed.
Additional publication details
Quantifying animal movement for caching foragers: the path identification index (PII) and cougars, Puma concolor