Understanding the behavioural drivers of the home range patterns of long-tailed tits

I thought it was about time I wrote a brief introduction to my PhD project, and why its so interesting to both those interested in mathematics and nature. In general I am interested in what behaviours cause animals to live the way they do. In particular I care about how animals use their available landscape.

Why? Well if habitats are continue to be reduced and changed by humans, we need to be able predict the consequences. Will the species survive? Will the ecosystem survive?

Many animal species live in home ranges, which means they restrict their movement to one area, even though there is much more space available.  If an animal is also territorial, we can call this their territory.

My first question is

What underlying behaviours are causing some animals to live in home ranges?

Could the animal be always returning to a den? Avoiding dangerous places? Looking for a mate?

I’m studying the home ranges of long-tailed tits. These birds aren’t territorial and outside of the breeding season they don’t have a constant roost. These things are important as

1. Territorial animals avoid each other, giving rise to territory formation which shows exclusive home ranges.

2. If an animal has a permanent nest or den they don’t usually range too far away from it, giving a clear home range.

Both of these have a wealth of mathematical models behind them and I’m interested in studying something more unknown.

Why are flocks of Long Tailed Tits restricting their movement to the finite areas we can see below? Why do they appear to use some of their space almost exclusively, although they are not territorial? What underlying behaviours are causing this?

These are GPS locations for 11 flocks of long-tailed tits. Its interesting that each flock uses some space almost exclusively, although numerous flocks can survive on the resources there. 

I’m using mechanistic models to model the home ranges seen above. Mechanistic models are mathematical descriptions of the underlying mechanisms of a process. To understand how animals use their space, the mechanisms are the behaviours that lead to movement and the movement eventually leads to these space use patterns.

More to follow in the near future! In the meantime see my poster

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