Space-use behaviour of woodland caribou based on a cognitive movement model

Tal Avgar, James A. Baker, Glen S. Brown, Jevon S. Hagens, Andrew M. Kittle, Erin E. Mallon, Madeleine T. Mcgreer, Anna Mosser, Steven G. Newmaster, Brent R. Patterson, Douglas E.B. Reid, Art R. Rodgers, Jennifer Shuter, Garrett M. Street, Ian Thompson, Merritt J. Turetsky, Philip A. Wiebe, John M. Fryxell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

83 Scopus citations


Movement patterns offer a rich source of information on animal behaviour and the ecological significance of landscape attributes. This is especially useful for species occupying remote landscapes where direct behavioural observations are limited. In this study, we fit a mechanistic model of animal cognition and movement to GPS positional data of woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou; Gmelin 1788) collected over a wide range of ecological conditions. The model explicitly tracks individual animal informational state over space and time, with resulting parameter estimates that have direct cognitive and ecological meaning. Three biotic landscape attributes were hypothesized to motivate caribou movement: forage abundance (dietary digestible biomass), wolf (Canis lupus; Linnaeus, 1758) density and moose (Alces alces; Linnaeus, 1758) habitat. Wolves are the main predator of caribou in this system and moose are their primary prey. Resulting parameter estimates clearly indicated that forage abundance is an important driver of caribou movement patterns, with predator and moose avoidance often having a strong effect, but not for all individuals. From the cognitive perspective, our results support the notion that caribou rely on limited sensory inputs from their surroundings, as well as on long-term spatial memory, to make informed movement decisions. Our study demonstrates how sensory, memory and motion capacities may interact with ecological fitness covariates to influence movement decisions by free-ranging animals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1059-1070
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 British Ecological Society.


  • Apparent competition
  • Attribute memory
  • Informative prior
  • Landscape of fear
  • Perceptual range
  • Redistribution kernel
  • Resource selection
  • Spatial memory
  • Step selection
  • Telemetry


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