Estimation and simulation of foraging trips in land-based marine predators

Theo Michelot*, Roland Langrock, Sophie Bestley, Ian D. Jonsen, Theoni Photopoulou, Toby A. Patterson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)


The behavior of colony-based marine predators is the focus of much research globally. Large telemetry and tracking data sets have been collected for this group of animals, and are accompanied by many empirical studies that seek to segment tracks in some useful way, as well as theoretical studies of optimal foraging strategies. However, relatively few studies have detailed statistical methods for inferring behaviors in central place foraging trips. In this paper we describe an approach based on hidden Markov models, which splits foraging trips into segments labeled as "outbound", "search", "forage", and "inbound". By structuring the hidden Markov model transition matrix appropriately, the model naturally handles the sequence of behaviors within a foraging trip. Additionally, by structuring the model in this way, we are able to develop realistic simulations from the fitted model. We demonstrate our approach on data from southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonina) tagged on Kerguelen Island in the Southern Ocean. We discuss the differences between our 4-state model and the widely used 2-state model, and the advantages and disadvantages of employing a more complex model.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1932-1944
Number of pages13
Issue number7
Early online date4 May 2017
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2017


  • Animal telemetry
  • Central place foraging
  • Hidden Markov model
  • Mirounga leonina
  • Southern elephant seal


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