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A maximum likelihood approach for identifying dive bouts improves accuracy, precision and objectivity

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Foraging behaviour frequently occurs in bouts, and considerable efforts to properly define those bouts have been made because they partly reflect different scales of environmental variation. Methods traditionally used to identify such bouts are diverse, include some level of subjectivity, and their accuracy and precision is rarely compared. Therefore, the applicability of a maximum likelihood estimation method (MLM) for identifying dive bouts was investigated and compared with a recently proposed sequential differences analysis (SDA). Using real data on interdive durations from Antarctic fur seals (Arctocephalus gazella Peters, 1875), the MLM-based model produced briefer bout ending criterion (BEC) and more precise parameter estimates than the SDA approach. The MLM-based model was also in better agreement with real data, as it predicted the cumulative frequency of differences in interdive duration more accurately. Using both methods on simulated data showed that the MLM-based approach produced less biased estimates of the given model parameters than the SDA approach. Different choices of histogram bin widths involved in SDA had a systematic effect on the estimated BEC, such that larger bin widths resulted in longer BECs. These results suggest that using the MLM-based procedure with the sequential differences in interdive durations, and possibly other dive characteristics, may be an accurate, precise, and objective tool for identifying dive bouts.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Biology, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, NL A1B 3X9, Canada; Centre d'Etudes Biologiques de Chizé, CNRS, 79 360 Villiers en Bois, France; 2: Centre d'Etudes Biologiques de Chizé, CNRS, 79 360 Villiers en Bois, France


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