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Proc Biol Sci. 2008 May 7;275(1638):1101-9. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2007.1688.

Socially informed random walks: incorporating group dynamics into models of population spread and growth.

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  • 1Department of Environmental and Evolutionary Biology, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ, UK.


Simple correlated random walk (CRW) models are rarely sufficient to describe movement of animals over more than the shortest time scales. However, CRW approaches can be used to model more complex animal movement trajectories by assuming individuals move in one of several different behavioural or movement states, each characterized by a different CRW. The spatial and social context an individual experiences may influence the proportion of time spent in different movement states, with subsequent effects on its spatial distribution, survival and fecundity. While methods to study habitat influences on animal movement have been previously developed, social influences have been largely neglected. Here, we fit a 'socially informed' movement model to data from a population of over 100 elk (Cervus canadensis) reintroduced into a new environment, radio-collared and subsequently tracked over a 4-year period. The analysis shows how elk move further when they are solitary than when they are grouped and incur a higher rate of mortality the further they move away from the release area. We use the model to show how the spatial distribution and growth rate of the population depend on the balance of fission and fusion processes governing the group structure of the population. The results are briefly discussed with respect to the design of species reintroduction programmes.

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