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Use of accelerometers is now widespread within animal biotelemetry as they provide a means of measuring an animal's activity in a meaningful and quantitative way where direct observation is not possible. In sequential acceleration data there is a natural dependence between observations of movement or behaviour, a fact that has been largely ignored in most analyses. Analyses of acceleration data where serial dependence has been explicitly modelled have largely relied on hidden Markov models (HMMs). Depending on the aim of an analysis, either a supervised or an unsupervised learning approach can be applied. Under a supervised context, an HMM is trained to classify unlabelled acceleration data into a finite set of pre-specified categories, whereas we will demonstrate how an unsupervised learning approach can be used to infer new aspects of animal behaviour. We will provide the details necessary to implement and assess an HMM in both the supervised and unsupervised context, and discuss the data requirements of each case. We outline two applications to marine and aerial systems (sharks and eagles) taking the unsupervised approach, which is more readily applicable to animal activity measured in the field. HMMs were used to infer the effects of temporal, atmospheric and tidal inputs on animal behaviour. Animal accelerometer data allow ecologists to identify important correlates and drivers of animal activity (and hence behaviour). The HMM framework is well suited to deal with the main features commonly observed in accelerometer data. The ability to combine direct observations of animals activity and combine it with statistical models which account for the features of accelerometer data offer a new way to quantify animal behaviour, energetic expenditure and deepen our insights into individual behaviour as a constituent of populations and ecosystems.


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Originally published in Methods in Ecology and Evolution.

Data available from the Dryad Digital Repository (Leos-Barajas et al. 2016).



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