ESR 32:19-33 (2017)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00779

Using tri-axial accelerometers to identify wild polar bear behaviors

A. M. Pagano1,2,*, K. D. Rode1, A. Cutting3, M. A. Owen4, S. Jensen5, J. V. Ware6, C. T. Robbins7, G. M. Durner1, T. C. Atwood1, M. E. Obbard8, K. R. Middel8, G. W. Thiemann9, T. M. Williams2

1US Geological Survey, Alaska Science Center, 4210 University Dr., Anchorage, AK 99508, USA
2Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Santa Cruz, CA 95060, USA
3Oregon Zoo, Portland, OR 97221, USA
4Institute for Conservation Research, San Diego Zoo Global, San Diego, CA 92027, USA
5Alaska Zoo, Anchorage, AK 99507, USA
6Department of Integrative Physiology and Neuroscience, Washington State University, Pullman, WA 99164, USA
7School of the Environment and School of Biological Sciences, Washington State University, Pullman, WA 99164, USA
8Wildlife Research and Monitoring Section, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, Trent University, Peterborough, ON K9L 0G2, Canada
9Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University, Toronto, ON M3J1P3, Canada
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Tri-axial accelerometers have been used to remotely identify the behaviors of a wide range of taxa. Assigning behaviors to accelerometer data often involves the use of captive animals or surrogate species, as their accelerometer signatures are generally assumed to be similar to those of their wild counterparts. However, this has rarely been tested. Validated accelerometer data are needed for polar bears Ursus maritimus to understand how habitat conditions may influence behavior and energy demands. We used accelerometer and water conductivity data to remotely distinguish 10 polar bear behaviors. We calibrated accelerometer and conductivity data collected from collars with behaviors observed from video-recorded captive polar bears and brown bears U. arctos, and with video from camera collars deployed on free-ranging polar bears on sea ice and on land. We used random forest models to predict behaviors and found strong ability to discriminate the most common wild polar bear behaviors using a combination of accelerometer and conductivity sensor data from captive or wild polar bears. In contrast, models using data from captive brown bears failed to reliably distinguish most active behaviors in wild polar bears. Our ability to discriminate behavior was greatest when species- and habitat-specific data from wild individuals were used to train models. Data from captive individuals may be suitable for calibrating accelerometers, but may provide reduced ability to discriminate some behaviors. The accelerometer calibrations developed here provide a method to quantify polar bear behaviors to evaluate the impacts of declines in Arctic sea ice.


KEY WORDS: Activity · Behavior · Polar bear · Ursus maritimus · Acceleration · Accelerometer · Brown bear · Ursus arctos


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Cite this article as: Pagano AM, Rode KD, Cutting A, Owen MA and others (2017) Using tri-axial accelerometers to identify wild polar bear behaviors. Endang Species Res 32:19-33. https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00779

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