The Langevin diffusion as a continuous-time model of animal movement and habitat selection

Théo Michelot, Pierre Gloaguen, Paul G. Blackwell, Marie-Pierre Etienne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)
1 Downloads (Pure)


1. The utilisation distribution of an animal describes the relative probability of space use. It is natural to think of it as the long-term consequence of the animal's short-term movement decisions: it is the accumulation of small displacements which, over time, gives rise to global patterns of space use. However, many estimation methods for the utilisation distribution either assume the independence of observed locations and ignore the underlying movement (e.g. kernel density estimation), or are based on simple Brownian motion movement rules (e.g. Brownian bridges).

2. We introduce a new continuous-time model of animal movement, based on the Langevin diffusion. This stochastic process has an explicit stationary distribution, conceptually analogous to the idea of the utilisation distribution, and thus provides an intuitive framework to integrate movement and space use. We model the stationary (utilisation) distribution with a resource selection function to link the movement to spatial covariates, and allow inference about habitat preferences of animals.

3. Standard approximation techniques can be used to derive the pseudo-likelihood of the Langevin diffusion movement model, and to estimate habitat preference and movement parameters from tracking data. We investigate the performance of the method on simulated data, and discuss its sensitivity to the time scale of the sampling. We present an example of its application to tracking data of Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus).

4. Due to its continuous-time formulation, this method can be applied to irregular telemetry data. The movement model is specified using a habitat-dependent utilisation distribution, and it provides a rigorous framework to estimate long-term habitat selection from correlated movement data. The Langevin movement model can be approximated by linear model, which allows for very fast inference. Standard tools such as residuals can be used for model checking.
Original languageEnglish
JournalMethods in Ecology and Evolution
VolumeEarly View
Early online date24 Aug 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 24 Aug 2019


  • Animal movement
  • Continuous time
  • Resource selection
  • Step selection
  • Langevin diffusion
  • Potential function
  • Utilisation distribution


Dive into the research topics of 'The Langevin diffusion as a continuous-time model of animal movement and habitat selection'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this