Does estimator choice influence our ability to detect changes in home-range size?

Johannes Signer, Niko Balkenhol, Mark Ditmer, John Fieberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Background: Estimates of home-range size are frequently used to compare areal requirements of animals over time or space. Comparative studies of home-range estimators have highlighted extreme differences among general classes of methods (e.g., polygon-based and kernel density-based estimators) and sensitivity to the choice of various tuning parameters (e.g., amount of smoothing). These studies, however, have largely failed to consider how estimates of home-range size are typically used in applied research. We illustrate simulation-based methods for comparing estimators, which focus on relative differences in home-range size (over time or space), rather than their absolute magnitude. We also consider Global Positioning Technology (GPS) location data from a black bear (Ursus americanus) from northwestern Minnesota, USA, to illustrate the relevance to real-world data applications. Results: In our examples, estimates of home-range size often differed considerably in absolute magnitude. Yet, for relative differences, the choice of home-range estimator was often negligible. Furthermore, choosing the right estimator was less important than other aspects of study design (e.g., number of animals followed). Conclusion: Many questions in ecology focus on changes in space-use patterns (over space or time). For these types of questions, home-range estimators should be evaluated in terms of their ability to detect these spatial and temporal patterns. More importantly, home-range estimation should be seen as a means to an end-i.e., estimators provide indices useful for addressing interesting biological questions or hypotheses-rather than as an end to itself.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number16
JournalAnimal Biotelemetry
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Signer et al.


  • Changes in home-range size
  • Estimator choice
  • Movement cost


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