Assessing humpback foraging, resting, and traveling using nested multivariate Markov models

View the Project on GitHub bw4sz/WhalePhys

Capturing foraging and resting behavior using nested multivariate Markov models in an air-breathing marine vertebrate

Ben G. Weinstein, Ladd Irvine, Ari S. Friedlaender*+

*Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Marine Mammal Institute, Oregon State University, 2030 Marine Science Drive, Newport, OR 97365, USA

+Institute of Marine Sciences, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, UC Santa Cruz, 115 McAllister Way, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Citation: In review at Movement Ecology. Minor Revisions.

Source Code


Background: Matching animal movement with the behaviors that shape life history requires a rigorous connection between the observed patterns of space use and inferred behavioral states. As animal-borne dataloggers capture a greater diversity and frequency of three dimensional movements, we can increase the complexity of movement models describing animal behavior. One challenge in combining data streams is the different spatial and temporal frequency of observations. Nested movement models provide a flexible framework for gleaning data from long-duration, but temporally sparse, data sources. Results: Using a two-layer nested model, we combined geographic and vertical movement to infer traveling, foraging and resting behaviors of Humpback whales off the West Antarctic Peninsula. This approach refined previous work using only geographic data to delineate coarser behavioral states. Our results showed increased intensity in foraging activity in late season animals as the whales prepared to migrate north to tropical calving grounds. Our model also suggests strong diel variation in movement states, likely linked to daily changes in prey distribution. Conclusions: Using a combination of two-dimensional and three-dimensional movement data, we highlight the connection between whale movement and krill availability, as well as the complex spatial pattern of whale foraging in productive polar waters. Keywords: Humpback Whales; West Antarctic Peninsula; Landscape ecology; Movement Model; Hidden-markov models; Antarctic Krill; Dive Behavior