Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 67, Issue 6, pp 1013–1026 | Cite as

Splitting animal trajectories into fine-scale behaviorally consistent movement units: breaking points relate to external stimuli in a foraging seabird

  • Andréa ThiebaultEmail author
  • Yann Tremblay


Animal movements are widely studied in ecology, and the analysis of tracking data usually gains from splitting the time-series into different parts before interpreting movement strategies. The recent increase in data accuracy and resolution allows for the study of fine-scale movements where each behavioral change is recorded. We propose a simple method to identify the elementary units of movement in a trajectory, resulting in breaks in the track corresponding to the animals' decisions to change its movement. We quantify the movement between successive steps with a vector of speed and direction and represent a movement path in a trigonometric circle space in order to visualize behavioral changes instead of spatial changes. In this space, the distance between successive points informs about their similarity in both speed and direction. We quantify the temporal changes in these distances with a cumulative sum and use a line simplification algorithm to identify breaks in the slope that correspond to breaks in the consistency of successive distance values. We test the algorithm on simulated trajectories and show that the expected number of segments is accurately identified. Moreover, we relate the resulting segmentation from recorded trajectories to events observed using animal-borne video footage and show that the presence of stimuli in the surroundings of the animal is associated with a higher frequency of changes in movement. As an applied example, we propose a descriptive analysis of the segments and show that segments of particular characteristics are not distributed equally along the trajectory, highlighting larger-scale behavioral strategies.


Movement ecology Animal behavior Segmentation Biologging GPS 



We thank SANParks for access to Bird Island, as well as Pierre Pistorius and Ralf Mullers for support and help during the fieldwork. The wind data were collected and provided by the South African Weather Service. We thank Nicolas Bez, Gabriel Reygondeau, and Laurent Dubroca for constructive contributions during the initial phase of methodological implementation and the anonymous referees for helpful comments on the manuscript.

Ethical standards

We declare that all experiments comply with the current laws of the country in which they were performed. Fieldwork, handling, and deployments were conducted following standard processes in seabird ecology (see “Materials and methods”, “Test of the method”, and “Collected data”).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, UMR EME-212 Exploited Marine EcosystemsCentre de Recherche Halieutique Méditerranéenne et TropicaleSète cedexFrance
  2. 2.Instituto del mar del Peru (IMARPE)CallaoPeru

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