Step selection techniques uncover the environmental predictors of space use patterns in flocks of Amazonian birds

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  • Understanding the behavioral decisions behind animal movement and space use patterns is a key challenge for behavioral ecology. Tools to quantify these patterns from movement and animal–habitat interactions are vital for transforming ecology into a predictive science. This is particularly important in environments undergoing rapid anthropogenic changes, such as the Amazon rainforest, where animals face novel landscapes. Insectivorous bird flocks are key elements of avian biodiversity in the Amazonian ecosystem. Therefore, disentangling and quantifying the drivers behind their movement and space use patterns is of great importance for Amazonian conservation. We use a step selection function (SSF) approach to uncover environmental drivers behind movement choices. This is used to construct a mechanistic model, from which we derive predicted utilization distributions (home ranges) of flocks. We show that movement decisions are significantly influenced by canopy height and topography, but depletion and renewal of resources do not appear to affect movement significantly. We quantify the magnitude of these effects and demonstrate that they are helpful for understanding various heterogeneous aspects of space use. We compare our results to recent analytic derivations of space use, demonstrating that the analytic approximation is only accurate when assuming that there is no persistence in the animals' movement. Our model can be translated into other environments or hypothetical scenarios, such as those given by proposed future anthropogenic actions, to make predictions of spatial patterns in bird flocks. Furthermore, our approach is quite general, so could potentially be used to understand the drivers of movement and spatial patterns for a wide variety of animal communities.

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    Article (Published)
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    Attribution 4.0 International
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    • Potts, Jonathan R., Mokross, Karl, Stouffer, Philip C., & Lewis, Mark A. (2014). Step selection techniques uncover the environmental predictors of space use patterns in flocks of Amazonian birds. Ecology and Evolution, 4(24), 4578-4588.
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