Classifying the activity states of small vertebrates using automated VHF telemetry

  • The most basic behavioural states of animals can be described as active or passive. However, while high-resolution observations of activity patterns can provide insights into the ecology of animal species, few methods are able to measure the activity of individuals of small taxa in their natural environment. We present a novel approach in which the automated VHF radio-tracking of small vertebrates fitted with lightweight transmitters (< 0.2 g) is used to distinguish between active and passive behavioural states. A dataset containing > 3 million VHF signals was used to train and test a random forest model in the assignment of either active or passive behaviour to individuals from two forest-dwelling bat species (Myotis bechsteinii (n = 50) and Nyctalus leisleri (n = 20)). The applicability of the model to other taxonomic groups was demonstrated by recording and classifying the behaviour of a tagged bird and by simulating the effect of different types of vertebrate activity with the help of humans carrying transmitters. The random forest model successfully classified the activity states of bats as well as those of birds and humans, although the latter were not included in model training (F-score 0.96–0.98). The utility of the model in tackling ecologically relevant questions was demonstrated in a study of the differences in the daily activity patterns of the two bat species. The analysis showed a pronounced bimodal activity distribution of N. leisleri over the course of the night while the night-time activity of M. bechsteinii was relatively constant. These results show that significant differences in the timing of species activity according to ecological preferences or seasonality can be distinguished using our method. Our approach enables the assignment of VHF signal patterns to fundamental behavioural states with high precision and is applicable to different terrestrial and flying vertebrates. To encourage the broader use of our radio-tracking method, we provide the trained random forest models together with an R-package that includes all necessary data-processing functionalities. In combination with state-of-the-art open-source automated radio-tracking, this toolset can be used by the scientific community to investigate the activity patterns of small vertebrates with high temporal resolution, even in dense vegetation.

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Author:Jannis GottwaldORCiD, Raphaël RoyautéORCiD, Marcel BeckerORCiD, Tobias Geitz, Jonas HöchstORCiDGND, Patrick LampeORCiDGND, Lea Leister, Kim LindnerORCiD, Julia Maier, Sascha RösnerORCiDGND, Dana G. SchaboORCiD, Bernd FreislebenORCiDGND, Roland BrandlGND, Thomas MuellerORCiDGND, Nina FarwigORCiDGND, Thomas NaussORCiDGND
Parent Title (English):bioRxiv
Document Type:Preprint
Date of Publication (online):2022/03/23
Date of first Publication:2022/03/23
Publishing Institution:Universitätsbibliothek Johann Christian Senckenberg
Release Date:2023/07/31
Page Number:34
Angeschlossene und kooperierende Institutionen / Senckenbergische Naturforschende Gesellschaft
Fachübergreifende Einrichtungen / Biodiversität und Klima Forschungszentrum (BiK-F)
Dewey Decimal Classification:5 Naturwissenschaften und Mathematik / 59 Tiere (Zoologie) / 590 Tiere (Zoologie)
Licence (German):License LogoCreative Commons - CC BY-NC-ND - Namensnennung - Nicht kommerziell - Keine Bearbeitungen 4.0 International