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Disentangling the effects of forage, social rank, and risk on movement autocorrelation of elephants using Fourier and wavelet analyses.

Abstract

The internal state of an individual-as it relates to thirst, hunger, fear, or reproductive drive-can be inferred by referencing points on its movement path to external environmental and sociological variables. Using time-series approaches to characterize autocorrelative properties of step-length movements collated every 3 h for seven free-ranging African elephants, we examined the influence of social rank, predation risk, and seasonal variation in resource abundance on periodic properties of movement. The frequency domain methods of Fourier and wavelet analyses provide compact summaries of temporal autocorrelation and show both strong diurnal and seasonal based periodicities in the step-length time series. This autocorrelation is weaker during the wet season, indicating random movements are more common when ecological conditions are good. Periodograms of socially dominant individuals are consistent across seasons, whereas subordinate individuals show distinct differences diverging from that of dominants during the dry season. We link temporally localized statistical properties of movement to landscape features and find that diurnal movement correlation is more common within protected wildlife areas, and multiday movement correlations found among lower ranked individuals are typically outside of protected areas where predation risks are greatest. A frequency-related spatial analysis of movement-step lengths reveal that rest cycles related to the spatial distribution of critical resources (i.e., forage and water) are responsible for creating the observed patterns. Our approach generates unique information regarding the spatial-temporal interplay between environmental and individual characteristics, providing an original approach for understanding the movement ecology of individual animals and the spatial organization of animal populations.

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